Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Out of the Past: Ballywhinney Girl by Eve Bunting

We found her in the bog,
where she had lain so long.

They came, the archaeologists...

"They found some flowers beside her,
lupin and wild roses." the sergeant says.

I saw her dawdling along the lanes
the way I do.
I heard her singing as she walked.

What is the meaning of time? Young Maeve, who with her grandfather finds the small body in the bog, suddenly sees that theirs is not a crime story, but a sudden view into the past of more than a thousand years ago. And when she learns that the dark figure in the Irish bog was that of a young girl, a girl her age with fair hair like hers, someone who wandered those fields and gathered wild flowers as she herself has done many times, she suddenly sees the past, not as something separate, something you hear or read about, but as a continuum, one in which she is also moving, caught up in events not altogether within her will.

In those fragile but perfectly preserved flower petals Maeve sees the all-too-human heart, like her own, a girl who walked the steps that she walks now, where someday someone else may walk in her place, and in memoriam she lays a flat stone on the place where she had rested, feeling that the girl is still there in spirit.

She carries flowers,
blue lupin, and wild roses.
Her ghost-light steps
are gentle on the place
where long ago she fell.

In their forthcoming Ballywhinney Girl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) Caldecott winners Eve Bunting and Emily Arnold McCully join their talents to portray the intriguing science mystery of an archaeological find, a bog mummy almost perfectly preserved, and the deeper philosophical theme of time itself. Time is a river into which we all step, the poets and thinkers tell us, and the young Maeve is everychild at the moment in which that vast sweep of time becomes conceivable, made tangible by the feeling of kinship she recognizes in the long-dead child. Eve Bunting's narrative, a sort of musical blank verse, presents this difficult theme seamlessly, with McCully's soft and evocative watercolor illustrations subtly reinforcing this theme. Ballywhinney Girl takes young readers along in what may be for some their first conscious step into that deep river which sweeps us all along.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Illuminate by Aimee Agresti

"Part two of the extravaganza!" cried Joan.

It was the anniversary of the day when I had been found and take to the hospital where Joan was the first to tend to me, to patch up my gashes.

I took the glittering box in my hands and shook it. "So I can open it?"

"You'd better!" said Joan.

I tore at the box and opened it. Its contents sparkled.

"I know you're not into jewelry, my precious little tomboy," she said. "But sixteen is a biggie and I thought you should have something pretty."

I pulled out a necklace, webbing its gold chain around my fingers. It's true, I didn't wear jewelry. But this one already felt different. It wasn't a heart or a dangling birthstone, or any of the typical things I was used to seeing on the girls at school. Instead, this pendant, almost heart-shaped, was something entirely new, a single gold wing, its texture softly rippled to give the illusion of feathers.

Under-the-radar, dorkish high school junior Haven is unbelieving when she and two classmates are selected from their school for a semester-long internship at the Lexington Hotel in downtown Chicago, just refurbished to its art deco Al Capone-age glory. The assembled cadre of young interns and assistants are an incredibly beautiful and aloof group of perfectly turned-out young men and women, presided over by the gorgeous and polished Aurelia, and Haven is bolstered only by the presence of the two other brainy honorees from her school, her best friend Dante, a flamboyant, would-be chef, and occasional classmate Lance, awkward and reserved.

But soon after the new interns are settled in the hotel for their semester, Haven senses something off-kilter in this scene of perfection. Among all the sophisticated and perfectly groomed interns, Aurelia is unusually focused on her and yet somehow off-puttingly manipulative, and when her incredibly handsome assistant Lucian begins to pay romantic attention to her, Haven finds it all hard to believe.

And then, setting up the hotel library, Lance finds a book with her name on the cover and gives it to her, and when she opens it, she finds the pages blank, except for a cryptic, handwritten message on the first page:

I trust you have found the pathway.

You will learn to break rules; your life depends on it. Trust in yourself. Trust in these words, and you will not falter.

Naturally, you will doubt this. Yours is an analytical mind. Take heart, winged one.

One last parting admonition, your necklace has deeper meaning. It defines you.

Haven tries to maintain her own integrity amid the seduction of the flattering attentions of Aurelia and Lucian and struggles to understand and carry out the difficult daily instructions of the mysterious book, orders which lead her into the secret passageways created by Capone's mob beneath the hotel, from which she is able to overhear the evil plans of her boss and the handsome Lucian. Haven is alone is her midnight excursions until she at last confides in Lance, who, it seems, is having parallel experiences, and like her, bears strange scars that warn him of something wicked in their solicitous supervisors. Together they piece together the terrible mission of their mentors--to win their very souls and make them one of them, the Metaphorsofi.

Then Haven opens that mysterious book one morning and finds a terrifying inscription waiting for her:

Haven, you will breathe your last mortal breath on May 27.

Aimee Agresti's forthcoming Illuminate: A Gilded Wings Novel, Book One (Harcourt, 2012) follows both a well-trodden path and forges into some new fantasy territory. For readers who cut their literary teeth on the Harry Potter series, the bare bones of the story will be familiar territory: a lonely young protagonist, a foundling with mysterious scars which burn when evil is near, a sudden and surprising emersion into another realm where the eternal struggle of good and evil is carried out on a grand scale, and a friendship that must stand its own trial by fire before the evil foe is temporarily vanquished--until the next book, that is. All of this is developed in a slow-building storyline in which Agresti ably fleshes out in the detailed setting of a refurbished luxury hotel with seemingly Stepford employees and a dance club with an actual "Ring of Fire" which, we discover, is fed by the eternal fires of the Inferno itself. Just as Harry and his companions grow into their good wizardly powers, so too Haven and Lance discover that they are "angels unaware" and that they must nurture their burgeoning strength even as they prepare for the apocalyptic conclusion of this book, Book One in a planned series.

Such novels, drawing from religious allegory, traditional fantasy, and metafictional realism, have become common, and though they are a genre that is not everyone's cup of, well, potion, they have their following in the many novels featuring vampires, werewolves, faery folk, and, as in this case, angels and devils (cf. even the venerated C. S. Lewis' and Madeline L'Engle's novels), now well represented among books for young adults. While Illuminate: A Gilded Wings Novel, Book One requires a mega-dose of that oft-cited "willing suspension of disbelief" to sustain credibility, Agresti creates plenty of action adventure and a trio of appealing characters which readers will want to revisit in subsequent sequels. As Kirkus Reviews says, "Smart, well-crafted and sophisticated; without a doubt, this belongs on the top of the stack of the current crop of angel books."

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Less Is... More by I. C. Springman






In a fabulously illustrated modern fable, author I.C. Springman and illustrator Brian Lies have given us a spare, 44-word parable of the perils of acquisitiveness taken to its illogical extreme, compulsive hoarding.

Springman's and Lies' tale features that most-collection-prone of critters, Magpie, who begins, as a bird with the blues, with nothing. A helpful mouse offers the gift of a blue-and-red swirled marble, and Magpie gratefully builds a roomy nest to set off his prize. His eyes glow as he admires the marble, and he is soon off to find other objects to ornament his home--a red lego, a golden schilling, someone's missing car keys, a broken strand of beads--and a collector is born.

Plenty is not enough for Magpie, as he continues to soar home with more objects, so many that his original nest becomes so full that there is no room for him in it. No matter. Another nest is built, and he sets out to furnish it splendidly with even more bright and shiny objects--from a pushpin to a pocket watch, a padlock, a toy car, even a mirror which reflects his bright eyes as he lovingly tucks a copper penny in among his treasures. The second nest bulges, portentously weighing down its limb even as his friend Mouse pronounces judgement on his new lifestyle:


The weighty collection can no longer be supported, and with a catastrophic CRACK, the limb fails and the heavy hoard cascades to the ground, burying its creator upside down, with only his shocked, straight-up legs in view. Mouse and friends hastily remove the debris of Magpie's collection, piece by piece, until he is at last freed from the weight of his possessions, with single fork left holding part of a peel-off non-fat yogurt top like a banner, one which proclaims Magpie's new state--FREE.

When is plenty enough? In a consumer society where closets are larger than our grandparents' bedrooms, most of us have begun to wonder the same thing. When is BIG big enough and when is enough stuff too much stuff? The award-winning Brian Lies' illustrations elegantly flesh out Springman's minimalist text in a tale that is sure to amaze kids with the sheer realism of its Walter Wick-like detailed objects and impress adults with its telling touches of irony. Magpie's right leg is banded, bearing, as one sharp reviewer points out, the number 3141 (suggesting the multiplying power of pi), while all the various detritus of human life is clearly symbolic of the over-abundant possessions of a modern life which generate (what else?) a profitable plethora of businesses whose sole mission is to whisk away that excessive stuff.

Springman's and Lies' More (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), forthcoming March 6, is a light-hearted little fable which also functions fully as an engaging picture book for youngsters, who will focus more on the riches of the brilliantly executed pictures, the personable mice, and the amazing plenitude of visual variety that Lies' illustrations offer rather than on its warning of the perils of plenty.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Very CAREFULLY! How Do You Hug A Porcupine? by Laura Isop



Even the bunny is not so sure this is a good idea, even if the loving little girl in this story-in-rhyme seems determined to hug as many critters as she can corral. Dogs are cinchy--they go for affection most any time. The cat, however, looks a little askance as she is approached for a caress. And for that pony, provide a pail of grain and--instant equine popularity:


Cows? Could be. A pig. Well, spread your arms big! Bring a ladder for the giraffe, certainly, but that elephant makes it easy by offering a friendly trunk to give a squeeze right back.

But a porcupine gives even this protagonist cause for a pause. Like, where do you start?

Laurie Isop takes on this pricklesome problem in her How Do You Hug a Porcupine? (Simon & Schuster, 2011), pushed along by her bouncy verse and propelled with humor by illustrator Gwen Millward's ability to give the objects of our girl's affections comic expressions that mirror their own personalities. Her chosen porcupine is doubtlessly dubious about the whole idea, which adds to the fun of the final and inevitable embrace. Pair this one with Paul Schmid's porcupine's-eye-view of the whole embraceable dilemma in his recent Hugs from Pearl. (See my review here. )


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blowing Your Own Horn! Listen to My Trumpet! by Mo Willems



Piggie plunks down a little three-legged stool for her friend Gerald the Elephant. Gerald is not sure what to expect from his exuberant friend. A trumpet? Piggie plays a trumpet? It's news to him.


"YIKES!" Gerald involuntarily yelps. Piggie can't play the trumpet! This is awful! What in the world can he say to his best friend, eagerly waiting for his reaction?

Piggie redoubles her efforts to impress her consternated friend.

"Blap- BLONK!"

Gerald is speechless. His best friend is waiting for his approval, but how can he give it when her notes are so unspeakably painful? He decides to open by accentuating the positive.



Gerald struggles with his conscience. Finally he decides to tell his friend the truth, however unpleasant.


Gerald waits fearfully for his friend's reaction. Will she cry! Get angry? All his fears play across Gerald's face as Piggie just stares at him, a bit baffled.


Oh. That's different.

Mo Willems' latest in his award-winning early reader books, Listen to My Trumpet! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) (Hyperion, 2012), continues this deservedly best-selling series, combining easy vocabulary, irresistible characterizations done in seemingly simple line drawings, surprise endings, and thoughtful insights into the nature of friendship between these unlikely comrades. Elephant and Piggie rock and rule!

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Mystery Hound: Girl's Best Friend by Leslie Margolis

On Sunday, I put on my softest jeans, my scuffed blue Pumas, and one of Finn's baggy old shirts. I dumped my schoolbooks out of my backpack and filled it with some dog-walking supplies instead. I slipped my camera into my back pocket and slung my dad's binoculars around my neck to complete the disguise.

Looking like a girl going after an evil dognapper was too dangerous, which is why I transformed myself into Maggie Brooklyn, Bird-Watcher.

I even looked up a bunch of bird facts in case I met another bird-watcher and had to act the part. I was ready.

Seventh-grader Maggie is used to being stealthy: she's a secretly employed dog-walker, a fact she hides from her parents, fearing that they'll say it takes too much time away from homework. When Isabel, the eccentric landlady of their subdivided Brooklyn brownstone hurt her foot and drafted her for doggie duty, Maggie couldn't refuse the two lucrative offers to walk other people's dogs, and she's already stashed over a hundred dollars in her hiding place in the unused fireplace in her room.

But when she catches ex-best friend Ivy in the process of pilfering her stash during her twin brother's party, Maggie gets drawn into the mystery of the disappearance of Ivy's dog Kermit. Ivy may now be a mean-girl frenemy, but her floppy -eared Kermit is still close to Maggie's heart, and she reluctantly agrees to try to discover the perpetrator behind the kidnapping of Kermit and several dogs in the neighborhood. Ivy shows her the ransom note and explains that she was just "borrowing" the money to get Kermit back. Maggie bones up on sleuthing with her mom's old Nancy Drews and agrees to go undercover on the case.

Between juggling her surveillance role, doing her daily dogwalking, and trying to come up with opening conversational gambits for her crush, Milo, Maggie is busy, but she is nevertheless drawn into a second mystery as her landlady discovers an unopened letter from her ex-husband, whom she had written off as a total jerk for stealing all her money, stating that in repentance he has hidden the returned money inside their brownstone in a hiding place she'll easily guess. But Isabel can't guess that hiding place, and when Maggie sleuths out the cause of the mysterious sounds inside her walls, she learns that when Isabel's impoverishment forced her to subdivide the brownstone into four apartments, concealed areas inside the walls remained and while her tenants are working, Isabelle has been feverishly searching their apartments for her hidden fortune. Suddenly Maggie knows just where the wayward husband must have hidden that money, prompting some secret sleuthing via secret passages herself.

Leslie Margolis' first book in the intended Maggie Brooklyn Mysteries, Girl's Best Friend (Maggie Brooklyn Mystery) (Bloomsbury, 2011) introduces an engaging girl sleuth to this popular genre. Margolis begins the novel in leisurely fashion, as befits the first book of a series, establishing her characterizations in telling episodes before the real mystery begins to unfold, but her usual comic flair for first-person narration carries the story along with plenty of energy until the plot thickens into a double mystery that puts the young detective through her paces in fine style for 'tween readers. The addition of Milo and Maggie's sometimes annoying twin brother Finn into the detection action makes this one good reading for both sexes. Don't judge this one by its less than exciting cover, because Maggie has a lot to offer. Also don't miss the just-published sequel, Vanishing Acts (Maggie Brooklyn Mystery) (Bloomsbury, 2012).

Margolis' earlier hilarious middle school stories include Boys Are Dogs and Girls Acting Catty.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hold the Crown: Too Princessy! by Jean Reidy

It's a rainy day--and not the sort of rainy day that makes a girl want to go out and play in the puddles either.


Maybe just the right toy is hiding in that big cardboard box, one that will inspire some indoor fun. How's about some music? There's a drum and a toy piano....


The jumping jack is too jolly. The play clay is too gloppy and the robot is too blinkety. The clown is too over-the-big-top circusy. Even the costume is too princessy and her tiara is too crowny. Soon the too-something cast-offs are scattered all over the floor , and the big brown box sits empty.

It seems no plaything in the box pleases this persnickety girl.

But---wait! That box has possibilities. Can she fit inside? Could it be a rainy day castle?

Could it be....FUN?

Collaborators Jean Reidy and Genevieve Leloup join forces in their third picture book ode to adjectives, Too Princessy! (Bloomsbury, 2012). As in their earlier Too Purpley! and Too Pickley! Reidy's smart wordplay and Leloup's monochromatic and stylized illustrations spoof the picky among us with good humor and verve. Pair this one with Antoinette Portis' notable Not a Box for some fun with the power of the playful mind.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who's Prima Now? Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet by Jane O'Connor




After all, Nancy and Bree are already knowledgeable about all things mermaid-ish. They have made mermaid outfits already, have redesigned their clubhouse, renamed the "Mermaid Mansion," and they practice daily, floating gracefully in their own private lagoon (Jojo's plastic backyard pool.) And at class their plies are pliant and their posture is perfect. Nancy even knows all the French ballet terminology. They can't wait to take center stage together in their glamorous mermaid costumes.


Sure that they are shoo-ins for stardom, Nancy and Bree really try to catch Madame Lucille's eye in class.

Mais non! When the casting is posted, the hopeful duo are disappointed. Savannah gets the plum role as prima mermaid. And even worse, neither of them make the mermaid corps de ballet. Bree is cast as an oyster, and Nancy is a tree! Not much chance for stardom or glamor in those dumb roles!

Nancy is consoled by the thought that at least Bree didn't make mermaid while she was stuck with being background scenery, and gamely the two give their roles their best shot, holding out at least for snazzy costumes. At least, Nancy consoles herself, she's a weeping willow, a tree with fancy possibilities, and she even begins to get into her role, practicing swaying and swooping gracefully in the imagined breeze.

And then... that predictable showbiz predicament presents itself. Savannah sprains her ankle and is unable to take the stage to lead the mermaid dancers. The show must go on, and suddenly there is a role available in the mermaid corps. But which one of the girls is going to get that sparkly, spangly role?

Jane O'Connor comes through again in her newest, Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet (Harper, 2012), hitting all the right notes in her latest chronicle of primary-grade problems. If Bree gets the open mermaid role, how will Nancy handle the understandable rush of jealousy as Bree gets sparkly, spangled fins while Nancy has to make do with tinsel branches? Will she be able to rise to the occasion and give her usual sparkle and elan to a background bit part?

O'Connor and illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser come through as always with a winner. Glasser's fancy artwork brings all the little dancers to life with charm and grace, portraying in facial expressions and body language the feelings of all the little dancers, and O'Connor hits just the right tone as she reveals Nancy's inner turmoil as she meets another early childhood rite of passage.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coming Home: Dogtag Summer by Elizabeth Partridge

Mom leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "I'd forgotten how rough it was when you first got here," she said. "Those first few months, I thought we were going to spend our lives trying to coax you out of hiding."

I sat still on the couch after the door shut behind her. Thoughts tumbled around in my head, fell down into the hollow, scooped-out space inside me.

I'd had a home by a wide, tea-colored river. I'd had Grandmother and Ma. Before my baby book started when I was six, before I used to hide in my closet, I'd been a baby to someone else.

The summer between elementary and junior high school only adds to Tracy's feeling of being neither here nor there. But when scavenging for materials to build their own Viking funeral ship, she and her friend Stargazer find an old ammo chest among her father's tools and inside it a pair of Army dogtags and a worn photo of her dad and two Vietnam War buddies, she knows that what is there is part of her feeling of personal limbo.

Her father is furious when he catches them with the box and snatches it away. But like Pandora's box, the ghosts that are released from that place cannot be put back. A river of memories come flooding back in Tracy's mind, no longer hidden in the closet of her mind.

Dad was totally wrong if he thought he could just shove the ammo box on some shelf and life would go on like before. Something had been trapped in the box --maybe hopes and dreams and fears--and now they were out a blowing around us, skittering between us all.

Now the past--her past before she was six and taken to be adopted in California--comes back to Tracy, memories of her mother, who worked for the Americans and came home with presents from the PX and hugs for her only on holidays, of Grandmother, who consoled her when people called her con-lai and whispered that she got her brown hair and light eyes from an American father, and worst of all, how the soldiers of Uncle Ho came, killed her uncle, and took Grandmother away while she hid under the bed, and how the big Americans took her away from the house on the edge of the river. Now Tracy understands her feeling of being separate, somewhere between two places. Stargazer's war-protester father calls her dad a "baby killer" for his role in Vietnam, but the dogtags, with the serial number and blood type of someone named James who was killed by the Vietnamese, still seems to haunt him. Who was this man and what secrets were hidden away in that box? Tracy has to know what they can tell her about the other part of her, that half that was named Tuyet and once lived by a tea-colored river.

Elizabeth Partridge's moving novel, Dogtag Summer (Bloomsbury, 2011) , set in 1980 in the aftermath of that war, testifies to the truth that in a way wars are never over. Suffering from what we now call PTSD, her dad is still fighting a war within over what he did and saw in that war, and Tracy realizes that she, too, carries within herself the contradictions of that war, that the story of that mysterious James and her Vietnamese mother is her story as well., and that she was and is loved by both families, the living and the dead.

Partridge skillfully weaves the flashbacks of her former life with the daily events of Tracy's summer as she makes her separate peace with the ghosts of the past and the spirits of the living. A deeply meaningful book which deserves more acclaim than it has received, Dogtag Summer pairs well with the current National Book Award and Newbery Honor-winning Inside Out and Back Again as poignant and telling records for young adult readers of this period in our history, both as historical novel studies or for an understanding of that war for thoughtful readers.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Pea-sistance! I Don't Want to Be a Pea! by Ann Bonwill





And Hugo the Hippo has their costumes all figured out. HE will be the princess and Bella will the pea. Bella, however, is dissatisfied with the, er, size of her role. She feels pea-littled.



As we say, you can see where this one is going. Every idea that Hugo and Bella come up with gives one the starring role and the other a bit part. Hugo may have the build for a rock, but having Bella sit on him all night doesn't sound like being the life of the party, to say the least. Nobody wants to be Cinderella's pumpkin or the king's jester. Bella and Hugo both decline to audition for those dumb parts. Time for the party to begin is drawing nearer and nearer, and tempers flare!


Neither Bella nor Hugo wants to miss the party, and neither one wants to go alone! Can they compromise before it's too late and find a way to get to that traditional fairy tale HAPPY ENDING?

Author Ann Bonwill's and artist Simon Rickerty's just published I Don't Want to Be a Pea! (Atheneum, 2012) shows that learning to work together amiably is the way to introduce two engaging new friends in a that venerable genre of the preschool set, the friendship story. Like Elephant and Piggie, Pooh and Piglet, Frog and Toad, and other sometimes contrary pals, Bella and Hugo find a way to find common cause as two peas in a pod. A short and easy-to-read story that makes its point pointedly, this one has potential as a rib-tickler and fun emergent reader tale of two best buddies who come to a comic compromise.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bedtime for Builders:; Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherry Rinker



Crane hoists a last I-beam, Cement Mixer spreads his final load, and Dump Truck deposits his last run of rip rap, as twilight falls over the construction site. Even heavy equipment goes off duty at night, and these rough and tough big boys must finally head for their nocturnal parking places as the crescent moon rises over their site, nestling itself cozily in the basket of the power shovel in a moment of lunar laziness.

Sherry Rinker's and Tom Lichtenheld's best-selling new Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (Chronicle Books, 2011) is just the lullaby needed for those kids who toddle off to their trundle beds with a toy bulldozer instead of a teddy for a bed buddy. With Rinker's sweet and simple rhyming text and Lichtenheld's irresistible anthropomorphizing big builders, this one is sure to become a bedtime classic, fun to read aloud and great to have read to you, a story which salutes the excitement of BIG machines and still manages to put in a plug for snooze time. Make this one the nightcap that follows Kate and Jim McMullan's I'm Dirty! or any of the Jon Scieszka's Trucktown series to use to send young gearheads rolling off to a power bedtime.

This little book really revved up the reviewers' engines. Here are a few of them cranking up rhapsodies of prose for this one: "Lichtenheld's detailed and textured illustrations, rendered in wax oil pastels on vellum paper, perfectly complement the fun, rhyming text, cleverly personifying each truck with expressive eyes and amusing details. ...Recommended for vehicle- and bedtime-themed storytimes, this is sure to be a hit with truck-loving preschoolers." -(School Library Journal, starred review);" "A delightful debut." says The New York Times ; and not to be knocked out of the praise race, Booklist adds, " A standout picture book, especially for those who like wheels with their dreams."

Watch the book's brief and breezy trailer here, and you'll see why kids will really DIG this book.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Snowy Snitcher: Red Sled by Lila Judge

Scrunch Scrinch.

Twilight is closing in on a snow-covered cottage, and a red-stocking-capped lad, pulling his red sled behind him, is scrunching through the dry snow toward home. Leaning his trusty toboggan against the wall beside the door, he clocks out for the day, ready for a warm supper and some sleepy time.

But watching nearby, ready for a sledding night shift, is a large round bear with his eyes on that sled. Stealthily he approaches the sled, resting by the door. Success!

Scrunch Scrinch...

Our furry sled snitcher scrunches off with his purloined prize undetected, and heads for a downhill run. One big ursian push and he's off.


But unnoticed, Bear has picked up a backseat passenger for his run--Rabbit, who lets out his own ululation:


But on the next downhill slide, Bear picks up a couple more passengers, some young raccoons and their fellow traveler, Possum, who drop out of their tree and cling to the sled right behind Rabbit. Their vehicle is becoming a bit hefty, and it rides low in the snow, heading for a snowdrift collision:


Lita Judge's brand-new Red Sled(Atheneum, 2011) is an (almost) wordless picture book, narrated only by onomatopoetic sounds, as her well-crafted images spin out a snow fantasy that any kid would envy, with a satisfying conclusion in which the sledding adventure comes full cycle, with the red sled again leaning against the cottage wall as the dawn breaks. Judge's deft touches of red in the gray and white snowdrifted setting and the infectiously funny expressions of the sled's hangers-on make this a picture book to remember for snow time.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Color Me Stylin': The Fashion Coloring Book by Carol + Lulu

"...the perfect melding of all my interests: high fashion/DIY/craternoons/self-expression/imagination/inspiration."

Most budding fashionistas might merely fantasize about apprenticing under Coco Chanel or Stella McCartney, Christian Louboutin or Versace, Jeremy Laing or Givenchy, or other icons of style.

Carol Chu and Lulu Chang's forthcoming The Fashion Coloring Book (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) gives young stylists an open-ended, freewheeling opportunity to wander in, pick up some pages from the sketchbooks of some of the most famed designers of our time and try their own imaginative hands at the finishing touches of these creators.

Carol + Lulu touch most of the bases in the work of the great designers, with items from socks to shoes, handbags to haute couture, denim to demure, Calvin Klein and cowboy to Christophe, Balmain to Burberry, and with attribution to each designer, allow the young artist to have free play with color on their inviting large-format pages with black-line drawings, to turn them into their own portfolio of fashion statements.

Fun for young fashionistas and aspiring artiste-designers, The Fashion Coloring Book takes a fresh look at fashion and a springboard to their own imaginative efforts for those who want to leave their own stamp upon fashion--their own or their world's.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cool Together! One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo

Elliot was a very proper young man.

So, on Saturday, when his father said, "Family day at the aquarium. Shall we go?"

Elliot thought, Kids, masses of noisy kids.

But he only said, "Of course; thank you for inviting me."

At the aquarium, Elliot's father is the quintessential detached dad, plopping onto a bench and instantly lost in his National Geographic, leaving Elliot, sober in his dark suit and formal bow tie, to his own devices. Eschewing the usual kid-pleasing, squeal-producing, hands-on exhibits, he takes the road not taken, down a quiet hall to a display that takes his breath away.


In their tidy black feather tuxedos, with their proper posture, the penguins reminded Elliot of himself.

Even Ferdinand Magellan looked like his kind of guy.

Suddenly Elliot falls in love with one little penguin, whom he christens "Magellan," and hot foots it back to where his dad is still reading.

"Are you having fun?" Dad asks.

"Yes, thank you. May I have a penguin?"

Absentmindedly, Dad's glance falls on the museum shop's Today's Special poster advertising large plush penguins for only $19.95. Peeling off a twenty, Dad generously agrees to the seemingly reasonable request and goes back to his article. And the amazed Elliot is off on his mission of penguin adoption, giving the amiable Magellan a ride home in his backpack.

Back home, Elliot sets out to make Magellan comfortable in his room, where he turns the heat down low enough to turn his plastic wading pool into a skating rink for his new pet. In the window comes the garden hose to fill the pool. "GRACK," says Magellan gratefully. With his buddy settled in, Elliot requests permission to head for the library to do some research on a school report on, um, Ferdinand Magellan.

"When I was in fourth grade, I got Captain Cook," his dad remarks companionably from his map-plastered study.

Back from his fact-finding mission on Magellanic penguins, Elliot requests frozen pizza for his dinner, and after apologetically pointing out that all they have is anchovy pizza, his father goes back to his own research, and Elliot zips back to his own room with his frigid result of his foraging for Magellan's dinner.

All is cozy and cool up in Elliot's room, with Magellan stuffed on anchovies and swimming contently in a tub floating with ice cubes, until his Dad blunders into the bathroom and discovers just what kind of penguin his son has broght home.


But all's well that ends well, when Elliot discovers that he has another soul mate in his family besides Magellan in Toni Buzzeo's delightful new book, One Cool Friend (Dial Books, 2012), as his father reveals his own unusual pet in a surprising (but deftly foreshadowed) ending that will leave kids satisfied and grinning from ear to ear.

Caldecott winner David Small turns out the perfect illustrations for Buzzeo's skillfully written text with just right touches of humor throughout to make this a not-to-be-missed new offering for the new year. In addition to the boy-brings-home-unusual-pet premise, there is another subtle theme here, felt more than stated, as the Publishers Weekly reviewer slyly points out: "Though very much a boy-and-his-pet story, it’s just as much about two gentlemen who appear to be orbiting entirely different planets. The revelation that they’re not so dissimilar after all is about as sweet as it gets."

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Too-Loose Tale: Fancy Nancy and the Too-Loose Tooth by Jane O'Connor






Nancy is a girl who appreciates the importance of accessories. And suddenly she realizes that that tooth necklace is the accessory du jour in Ms. Glass's class.

Nancy feels a twinge of envy as she watches Lionel show off his prize to the whole class. But she's got a loose tooth, too, a little bit loose, and she sees that all she has to do is to make sure that she loses that tooth at school and that wonderful accessory is hers!

Nancy does what she can to make that happen.



At home Nancy sticks to soft foods, like bananas. She turns down Dad's offer to pull the tooth for her. She even tries not to talk. Soon the tooth is just hanging in there by the proverbial thread. Nancy tapes it in before bedtime and even tries to sleep with her mouth open. Finally, she on her way to school, the tooth still tentatively attached. This will be the day she gets that necklace for sure. Then...


The tooth falls out and onto her tongue!

Oh, no! Nancy sees that really cool necklace receding into limbo. She was so close.... almost at the school door!

But wait! The tooth is still technically IN her mouth, right? If she leaves it there, on her tongue, until she is inside the door, does that count? And is that honest?

Jane O'Connor's latest Fancy Nancy I-Can-Read book takes our favorite fashionista through another major milestone of the primary school years in Fancy Nancy and the Too-Loose Tooth (I Can Read Book 1) (Harper Festival, 2012). O'Connor's subtle writing reveals Nancy Clancy's foibles and her best nature alike as she navigates this transition with characteristic style in this on-target entry in the beginning reader category.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Love Boat: Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck

"Everybody has two futures," Aunt Fannie said.

"The future you choose. Or, the future that chooses you.

Here's your other future, Helena. The one you can choose. If you dare."

When the small-town nouveau riche Upstairs Cranstons decide to attend Queen Victoria's Jubilee Celebration in hopes of marrying off their sallow and unpromising older daughter, the Downstairs Cranston mouse family, headed by oldest sister Helena, faces a quandary. How will they live without the generous crumbs provided by the hearty-eating Cranstons and their clumsy cook Mrs. Flint? Helena decides to make the trek next door to the hidden home of her cousins to consult Aunt Fannie, the mouse matriarch of the clan and her crystal ball. What she learns is even more worrisome than the departure of the Upstairs Cranstons.

Not only is little sister Louise visiting the youngest Cranston daughter for nightly gossip as she suspected. It seems that her rascally little brother Lamont is skipping school and into all kinds of mischief with Gideon McSorley, bad-boy scion of the lowest-class mouse family around, and worse yet, middle sister Beatrice is slipping out at night to meet with this same rapscallion Gideon. That is the future that Aunt Fannie warns her of, the future that is sure to choose her family if she stays where she is.

But that other future is incredibly daunting to the Downstairs Cranstons. Their mother and two older sisters drowned in the rain barrel and they are justly terrified of water. But Aunt Fannie's fortunetelling is asking them to leave everything they treasure behind and stow away on the long ocean voyage to London in search of a different future.

And what a future it is in two-time Newbery-winning Richard Peck's newest novel for middle readers, Secrets at Sea (Dial, 2011).

Forsaking his usual boyish protagonists, Peck does not forsake his characteristic wry wit and eye for social absurdities in this sea adventure that combines harrowing escapes from the ship's one-eyed cat, storms at sea that nearly toss Helena into the drink, rubbing shoulders with both British human and mouse aristocracy. In a bit of matchmaking that would do the Bronte sisters proud, both the Cranstons' old maid daughter and her charming younger sibling and the mice sisters find their own fortune and heart's desire in shipboard romances. and even the wayward Lamont finds a respectable vocation at sea before their luxury liner docks. The brave Helena has embraced the risk and found a future for them all that she could never have imagined. As she wisely reflects,

"You can't go back, not in this life. You have to go forward."

Trying a bit of a new twist himself, Peck and his Victorian rodent tale take their place among the literary mouse aristocracy, alongside Kate DiCamillo's Newbery-winning The Tale of Despereaux, George Selden's classic Newbery book, The Cricket in Times Square (Chester Cricket and His Friends), and Newbery winner Lois Lowry's recent and delightful Bless This Mouse. (see my review here. ) Readers will be glad they set sail with Richard Peck, who is at the top of his witty adventurous tale-telling game here in Secrets at Sea.

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