BooksForKidsBlog

Saturday, March 31, 2012

There Goes the Neighborhood! The Pirates Next Door: Starring the Jolley Rogers by Jonny Duddle


Matilda lived in Dull-on-Sea, a gloomy seaside town.

Too busy in the summer, and in winter it shut down.

Dull-on-Sea is a dull and boring place, only outdone in seaside soporificity by its French sister-city, Ennui-sur-Mer. Neat cookie-cutter houses located in the exact center of immaculate lawns stretch down the identical streets, a vision of real estate sameness--except for the house next door to Matilda's.

That house had been for sale as long as Matilda's memory stretched back, and Matilda, a different drummer sort, had secret hopes for that house:

She hoped a family would move in, with a girl her age, or maybe...
A boy! A PIRATE boy!

And then, one day a veritable pirate ship on wheels rolls down that sleepy street and pulls into the drive of the vacant house. It's a new family, all right, the Jolley Rogers, complete with peg-legged dog and salty parrot, and best of all, a boy just her age, named JimLad!

It seems even privateers need some downtime in drydock, and the rumor mills of Dull-on-Sea grind into overtime as the town takes in the idea of a set of scurvy buccaneers putting down roots in their sedate city. Back fence gossip buzzes with dire warnings of a pirate takeover of the town:
Before you know it, there'll be more--
We'll all have pirates right next door!

But Matilda and JimLad take to each other like salty seadogs to a seabiscuit. While the rest of the class are giving JimLad, nautically speaking, a wide berth, Matilda invites him to put down anchor in the desk next to her at school, and soon she's, er, showing him the ropes of landlubber life. JimLad himself is grateful and returns the favor by teaching her the ways of the sea.

Just as the restive city is roused to take action against the whole bunch of buccaneers, the Jolley Rogers finish refurbishing their ship, and one morning the town awakens to find them gone. That ship has sailed, all right, but the Jolley Rogers seem to have left a surprising thank-you--a treasure map of Dull-on-Sea with an X marking the spot of mysterious digging in each front yard. Could those part-time citizens have left part of their pirate treasure behind, along with a promise to Matilda from JimLad to cast their anchor again in the cove at Dull-on-Sea?

Jonny Duddle's latest pirate tale, The Pirates Next Door (Templar, 2012) follows last year's buccaneer blockbuster, The Pirate Cruncher, both of them carrying a cargo of jolly rhyming text and buoyant acrylic artwork on board that will cause pirate-loving readers to run the Skull 'n' Bones up the mizzenmast and salute. Put these salty sagas with Melinda Long's and David Shannon's How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don't Change Diapers for some gloriously silly tales of those who sail the briny!

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Easter Buggy? Mater and the Easter Buggy by Kirsten Larsen

EASTER WAS JUST ONE DAY AWAY, AND THE CARS IN RADIATOR SPRINGS WERE REVVED UP FOR FUN.

AS LIGHTNING MCQUEEN DROVE DOWN MAIN STREET, HE SAW HIS FRIENDS GETTING READY FOR THE HOLIDAY.

All the motorized conveyances are in the spirit. Red the Firetruck has tulips coming along; Model T Lizzie is holding a "spring" (as in suspension) sale; and Fillmore the Van has painted up a pile of pastel gas cans for the annual can hunt. As always, Lightning is skeptical of fantastical characters such as the Easter Buggy, but like a good friend, he doesn't want his buddy Mater to be disappointed if his homemade cast-off tire basket, with its hopeful sign "Fill 'Er UP," isn't fully furbished by Easter morn.

LIGHTNING KNEW HE HAD TO DO SOMETHING.

IF THE EASTER BUGGY DIDN'T SHOW, MATER WOULD BE SO DISAPPOINTED.

It wouldn't be a Cars story if there weren't a car chase somewhere, and soon the chase is on! Lightning waits for Mater to doze off and races around Radiator Springs with Mater's empty basket, always just one step behind that evasive Easter Buggy, determined to fill that basket himself if the tricky Buggy fails to do the job.

It seems that I'm the not the only one who is a sucker for a silly pun and parody, and Kirsten Larsen's Mater and the Easter Buggy (Disney/Pixar Cars) (Disney Press, 2012) puts this groaner of a pun into best use as the premise for this timely takeoff on the venerable watching-for-the-Easter-Bunny theme in this holiday story honoring comic character Mater from the movie Cars.

Young motorheads may not quite catch all of Larsen' tongue-in-cheek touches (e.g., Mater's waiting Easter basket is made from a tire and ultimately filled with car parts and accessories), but the tale of that evasive bunny (er. buggy) who is always just out of Mater's sight (but not the reader's), works just as well here as it does in other Bunny-and-baskets stories for the picture book set, such as last year's hit, Splat the Cat: Where's the Easter Bunny?.

Little kids will giggle at the pink VW bug(gy), who, with air scoop "ears" and hood-mounted nose and whiskers, stays just one turn ahead of the chase, and everyone will be satisfied when the loyal Lightning returns to find Mater's tire basket already suitably set up for the season. For an appropriately shameless seasonal spinoff of a Disney hit movie, this one is short, spoofy, and certainly sweet. Anyone want a bite of my chocolate lug nut?

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Poem Pie Puzzler: Edgar Allan Poe's Pie by J. Patrick Lewis

EMILY DICKINSON'S TELEPHONE BOOK

My book closed twice before its close--
The two opposing pages
That added up to 113--
Were smudged around the edges--

At noon I opened it again--
When waking from my slumbers.
The phone book so befuddles me--
What were those two page numbers?

Mathematics are concrete, and poetry is metaphorical, and never the twain shall meet, right?

Nevermore? Not in poet laureate J. Patrick Lewis' new Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems (Harcourt, 2012), published just in time for Poetry Month in April.

It's not that hard to versify math problems as long as a rhyming dictionary is close by, but it takes a real poet to take on familiar works by such masters as Poe, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, A. A. Milne, or Shel Silverstein, pen pertinent parodies, using parallel prosody, and provide a perplexing math puzzler along the way. Lewis' arithmetical teasers vary in level of difficulty, but all are within the purview of elementary arithmetical operations, and these operations and answers are discretely printed (upside down) somewhere on each two-page spread.

The fun in reading the book lies in recognizing the parodies, which in turn requires familiarity with the originals, giving language lovers a chance to read these classics to young folks, out loud if possible. Reading the primary source poems, or at least a portion thereof, is an important step in presenting the puzzles and a big part of the puzzle as well. To spur some background interest, author Lewis provides an appendix with thumbnail pictures and biographies of each parodied author.

Here, for example, is J. Patrick Lewis' piquant reprise of Shel Silverstein's kid-pleasing "Boa Constrictor:"

Oh, I'm being eaten
by a Hip-po-po-tah-tum
At four percent per bite.

He's biting my thighs,
My tummy-tum-tum.
Bitin' my hips.
Ow! He bit my bum!

How many bites
from top to bottom
Is enough for a hungry
Hip-po-po-tah-tum?

Lewis has the poetic chops to recreate the rhyme scheme, meter, and verse form to reconfigure these poetic classics seamlessly, slipping in the arithmetical operations skillfully without missing a beat, providing poems that are pleasing ear-candy even if the reader decides to take a pass on the puzzlers for the moment. Illustrator Michael Slack's quirkily colorful comic art sets a just-right mood, alternating full-bleed color pages with spot-on humorous spot art set against white backgrounds for visual variety, making Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems a must-have for libraries, teachers, and parents. Math practice paired with gigglesome poems and a brush with some classic masters of poesy--what more can you ask for in 37 appealing pages?

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tales from the Campaign Trail: Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel

NEXT WEEK, OLD KITTY WILL LEAVE OFFICE* AND GIVE UP HIS ROLE AS THE PRESIDENT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD CAT CLUB.

WHY? IT'S NOT JUST BECAUSE HE'S OLD AND TIRED. IT'S ALSO BECAUSE HE WILL HAVE SERVED TWO FULL TERMS IN OFFICE WHICH IS THE LONGEST ANY KITTY IS ALLOWED TO BE PRESIDENT.

And that means... Bad Kitty's moment has come. She had wisdom. She has a persuasive personality. (Mwroour! Hiss! FFFTTT!) And she has an issue--the invasion of her neighborhood by stray cats who seem to be occupying the trash cans along the street. And it seems she has a wily and wise campaign manager, her ever-patient owner who is more than willing to instruct her in the ways of politics.

First, he explains, there is that little matter of an ELECTION!

WHY, EVEN BEFORE YOU GET ELECTED TO BE PRESIDENT, YOU HAVE TO WIN ANOTHER ELECTION JUST SO YOU CAN HAVE THE HONOR OF RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

The ever-willing Uncle Murray steps in to offer technical advice on little items like running for the nomination of your party. Party affiliations are easy to establish--right and left, right? Right and left sides of the street in this case. Bad Kitty soon has a rival for the nomination from the other side--BIG Kitty, who is the winner, paws down in the contest for BABY kissing (just as soon as Baby is done with her her French fries). Now it's on to the general election.

Just when Bad Kitty is getting down and dirty at the grassroots (NO! KITTY, NO! That's NOT what I meant!) another political consultant is called in to draw the veil over that scene, Edna Prunelove, who comes forth to offer campaign advice, and Bad Kitty, done with her digging, is off to try to garner an endorsement from Old Kitty and do some door-to-door campaigning. Chatty Kitty is all too eager to talk, but when opponent Big Kitty opens his door, Bad Kitty is so enraged by his imperturbability (whatcha bet his fur never moves in a hurricane?) and annoying Stepford cat smile, that she goes into one of her famous cat fits.

"MEOWR FFT FFT HISS SPIT REOWR!"

The next thing she knows the photo of her little off-message gaff is on the front page with the headline...

HISSY-FIT! CAT CANDIDATE FREAKS OUT!

...and the video is on the nightly news and going viral on VueTube. Bad Kitty fires her campaign manager.

But Uncle Murry steps into the breach with a little consulting on raising funds for the media campaign--complete with the skinny on PACs and 527 Groups, and soon Bad Kitty has the funds to come up with her own image-morphing video suggesting that Big Kitty is a not just a dog of a candidate but is perhaps an dog in kitty clothing! This campaign is proving full of dirty tricks...and then comes the big DEBATE, moderated by Strange Kitty, who suddenly seems more normal than the two candidates.

At long last comes the actual election day. But, whoa! There are challenges to a voter's registration, and some strange ballot irregularities, and the outcome is clouded, and then... the missing absentee vote turns up just as the polls are about to close!

If all of this sounds more than vaguely familiar to those of us who are worn out with robo-calls, it all points to the comic skills of Bad Kitty's quirky creator, Nick Bruel, whose newest, Bad Kitty for President (Roaring Brook, 2012), somehow manages to make the electoral process pointedly hilarious.

With this chapter book format that takes his cranky Kitty into new territory, populated by both beginning chapter primary readers just venturing out of the picture book phase and older middle readers who may have thought they were too mature for Bad Kitty books. Bruel continues to create comic publications that engage readers, from preschoolers to adults, in laugh-out loud stories. His forte lies equally in his comic art skills and in his keen comic sense that poignantly pokes gentle fun at both kitty and human foibles. "With their trademark wit, Bruel and his bad Kitty are back," says Booklist's reviewer of Bruel's latest.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Un-beatable! The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

Line up every plant and animal on Earth ...

... and one of every four will be a beetle.

If ever Nature awarded a Grand Prix Award for design, the winner going away would be the beetle, an oft-maligned species, with a body style that frequently draws yucks! and eeuuuwws!!! from humans for its everyday mini-specimens and which, in its super-sized version, such as the nine-inch titan beetle, is worthy of blood-curdling shrieks.

In what is estimated to be a million varieties, many undocumented, beetles all sport the same standard insect body parts in roughly the same configuration, all possessed of their signature wing casings which protect their delicate wings and provide an often predator-proof armor for their abdomens.

Within that conformation, however, their myriad variations in relative size--from the tiny eggplant flea beetle to the afore-mentioned titan--in antennae, leg adaptations, camouflaged color configurations, and jaw adaptations, from herbivore- to carnivore-friendly, make the beetle one of the most diversified and adaptable of life forms.

Steve Jenkins' forthcoming The Beetle Book (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) takes advantage of this diversification in delicately detailed illustrations which combine photographic detail with brilliantly colored drawings that makes these often shunned animals appear as the splendidly designed creations that they are.

No fiddlehead fern has more delicacy than the appropriately named featherhorn beetle, and no movie monster closeup is more horrifying than the victim's-eye view of the business end--the cruel jaws--of the six-spotted tiger beetle which Jenkins presents up close and personal, ready to crunch its hapless prey. From impressionistic color-blocking worthy of any modern art gallery to plain-Jane gray-brown which blends with bark, their camouflage coats are infinite and their chemical powers amazing, and from the tiniest eggplant flea beetle to the jumbo African goliath, so big it is kept as a pet, beetles can't be beat as wonders of nature.

""A richly varied and visually riveting introduction to beetles, both familiar and strange." says Booklist's starred review. "Distinguished both as natural history and work of art" echoes the starred review in Kirkus.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Moonwalking: Martin On The Moon by Martine Audet

... Today is the first day of school.
No walking on the moon today.

I concentrate really hard, but the blackboard is still empty.
The teacher is waving her hands around, talking with her hands.

She looks like one of the seagulls that flies along the riverbanks.
I miss those times.
I miss the waves and the wind.
I even miss the rain.

It's Martin's first day of school. He knows he's there to learn--the alphabet, what to do with numbers--but everything is strange and he is already homesick for the summer and the good times that filled it. He misses his mother's wide smile, and their walks along the river, the sand, the pebbles he collected, the smell of the wind, his gray cat Happy. He sits at his desk like the others. He can't see their faces, only the backs of their heads, as they listen to the teacher.

The river is so far away, so beautiful.
It's not like the empty blackboard behind the teacher.

Martin sits still in his little chair, but his mind flows back over happy memories of home, his drawing of a thunderstorm, his Mum Mum's poems.

Mum Mum explained that poems help you put things into words that are painful or wonderful or that you just don't understand.

Martin's thoughts fly far away, like summer butterflies, above and beyond the children at their desks whose names he does not know, and far, far way from the teacher who does not smile.

"Where are you, Martin? On the moon?" asks the teacher.
"Who are you blowing kisses to?"

Suddenly Martin notices that all the children have turned around to look at him. His fingers find the pebble from the riverbank that he keeps in his pocket

And then the teacher smiles, as wide as the river, and Martin is not on the moon: he is with his class and his teacher is smiling, and he knows he has something to show and tell already, his own poem from summer:

Tiny pebble
In my hand,

From the beach,
From the sand.

The first day of school is many things, but one of the most poignant is the painful longing for the freedom of the days just past, and in Martine Audet's forthcoming Martin on the Moon (Owlkids Books, 2012) we feel that twinge of nostalgia for times past as well as the promise of good days ahead. Martin's teacher knows how to use the teachable moment, how to take Martin's daydream kisses and turn them into the inspiration for the class' first alphabet assignment as everyone learns to write their own kisses, rows of perfectly formed X X X Xs on their papers, and how to add their names and post them on that blackboard, now no longer empty.

It's the first day of school, and Martin has stepped into a new river, one which will take him far.

"... creativity and inspired teaching in full bloom." says Kirkus Reviews in its starred review.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Letter Perfect: Pick Up Your Pen: The Art of Handwriting by Monica Dengo



Who needs handwriting?

Well, everyone does now and again. From incidental notes [Back at 8:00. Dinner in the oven. Please walk the dog!] to those hand-written thank-yous for wedding gifts, everyone has a need to write a "fair hand" from time to time. And when you take the big view of cursive, what is more human than that distinctively individualized act of drawing out our thoughts, feelings, and memories in graphic symbols? From runes scratched on rocks to the Book of Kells to the Declaration of Independence, handwriting represents our unique personality writ for the ages.

Monica Dengo's just published Pick Up Your Pen: The Art of Handwriting (Owlkids Books, 2012) sets out to convey the technique and the art of letters. Her product is both skill book and style book, with workbook-like blackline letters on a lined page for practice on each right-hand page, with double-page spreads for both capitals and lower case letters. But that's not all. Each left-hand page offers colorful hand-crafted characters, with plenty of space reserved for the young calligrapher to ad-lib his or her own creative examples. Samples of imaginative printed versions of the letter in the bottom right margins of each double-page spread show how graphic designers play with the fun of free-form fonts to give character to that basic letter form.

For her cursive examples, Dengo eschews the more elaborate handwriting styles of the past--Spencerian, Palmer, Zaner-Bloser, and the more recent D'Nealian--showing instead a stripped-down version with single-line ascenders and descenders, unslanted, with simple and straightforward joiners more nearly approximating electronic fonts. While this style lacks the rounded grace of earlier scripts, it is easily deciphered and learned, and should make for speedy transcription, not a bad thing in our time! After all, the word cursive itself means "running," (from the Latin currere), showing that our familiar joined script evolved way back in ancient times as simply a faster way to write words without having to pick up the pen between each letter. Dengo adds that although this style is uncomplicated to learn, it is easy to individualize and embellish after the basics are mastered, so that each student's fair hand will soon become his own, "in his own hand." "My goal," she writes in the introduction, "is to help children discover the musicality of handwriting and its expressive possibilities."

So skip those dull and dreary copybooks that bedeviled our ancestors, and pick instead this attractive and appealing guide which will make kids' fingers itch to have some fun developing their own scriptive style with Pick Up Your Pen: The Art of Handwriting.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Testimonial: My Dad, the Hero by Ethan Long

MY DAD ISN'T A SUPERHERO.

HE CAN'T LEAP TALL BUILDINGS AT A SINGLE BOUND.

This kid has figured out that his dad doesn't have superpowers. Why, he sometimes has to hand a jar that needs opening over to Mom. He trips over things, and instead of flying like a bird, he only takes to the air when he falls off a ladder. He can't lift trains with one hand; in fact he can barely lift a box of toy train parts off the shelf. He doesn't wear tights or a cape around the house. (Thank goodness for that!) And he's definitely not so heroic looking when he snores on the couch.

But that doesn't mean he's not a super dad.

MY DAD DOES SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH ME.

And that's what makes a dad heroic over the long haul, in Ethan Long's funny My Dad, My Hero (Jabberwocky, 2011). With its comic book layout and humorous asides along the way, it presses home the point that what super dads do is be there, day in and day out, with plenty of attention to time on task. "Powered by a Roy Lichtenstein meets Sunday funnies aesthetic and a self-effacing sense of humor, Long's story is sincere without being saccharine--which dads will appreciate, says Publishers Weekly.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Taking Care of Egg: When Blue Met Egg by Lindsey Ward

ONE SNOWY MORNING, BLUE WAS AWAKENED BY SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY FLYING THROUGH THE AIR.

A STRANGE EGG.

Blue is completely consternated to find a sizable, cold, and very white egg in his nest.

"DID ANYONE LOSE AN EGG?" BLUE ASKS.

Blue is a conscientious bird who immediately soars into action, searching for the egg's long-lost mother. Blue pops the egg into his little orange bucket and flies off over New York City, looking for the right home for his foster egg.

Their search becomes a scenic tour of wintertime New York City--Central Park and the boathouse, skyscrapers, uptown and downtown, the Statue of Liberty, and down into the subway, with many iconic Big Apple sights in the background. Blue even stops for a repast of a hot dog with all the New York trimmings from a street vendor.

EGG DIDN'T SEEM TO BE ALL THAT HUNGRY.

Blue and Egg share good times in the winter city--a whirl on a carousel, an evening at the opera (Blue shares his opera glasses with his stolid charge.) Still no Mama Bird comes forth to claim the lonely egg. As the chilly winter passes, Blue realizes that he enjoys his quiet companion and he really doesn't want to give Egg away. But one morning he notices that Egg seems smaller somehow. Blue's home remedies seem not to help this distressing shrinkage; in fact, hot soup seems to make the problem worse. And then, one warmish morning in April, Blue realizes that Egg is gone--totally gone--from his nest. Is this a tragedy?

Blue hasn't a clue, but sharp-eyed readers will know from the first page where this "egg" came from--an errant snowball toss by a bundled-up girl below Blue's tree. But Blue doesn't stay blue long, for underneath the tree he finds a flower blooming, and he is joyful in the belief that his friend has been transformed.

Lindsey Ward's When Blue Met Egg (Dial, 2012) proffers a sweet revamping of the Are You My Mother? premise, set against her charming vignettes of New York City's snowtime scenes, including a gatefold page with an intricate map of the Big City and adjacent boroughs across those familiar bridges. Ward's artwork combines delicate water-colored drawings with cut-paper collage which adds a lot to this quirky little winter-to-spring story--an egg-cellent beginning for spring and a tip of the hat to all those soon-to-come real colored eggs.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

What's for Dinner? Ten Hungry Rabbits by Anita Lobel

MAMA RABBIT WAS SAD.

"WE HAVE NOTHING TO PUT IN MY SOUP POT FOR DINNER AT ALL," SHE SAID.

"BUT, MAMA," WHINED TEN LITTLE RABBITS, "WE ARE VERY, VERY HUNGRY!"

"THERE IS THE GARDEN," SAID PAPA RABBIT. "YOU'RE SURE TO FIND GOOD THINGS THERE."

Rabbits and gardens go way back in storyland history, but Farmer McGregor has nothing to fear from these little rabbits, who, when push comes to shove, are moved to get hoppin' in their own garden, which is apparently bursting with ripe produce beggin' to be popped into the pot.

In no time the bunnies are back with their buckets brimming. Papa goes into sous chef mode, slicing and dicing, and Mama seasons and stews up some nutritious fast food for the family posthaste.

"YUM!" THE HAPPY RABBITS ARE HUNGRY NO MORE!

The veteran and venerated author-illustrator Anita Lobel's newest, 10 Hungry Rabbits: Counting & Color Concepts (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) is a delightful twofer, a counting AND color concept book combo, with a nod to the Stone Soup storyline and a clever auxiliary plug for healthy veggies as well.

The ten little rabbits are well individualized, each with his or her own personality and preferences, and each bags a fruit, vegetable, or fungus (mushrooms) color-coordinated with his or her clothing. For example, Rabbit #1 picks one purple cabbage; Rabbit #4 finds four red tomatoes, and Rabbit #6 reaps six orange carrots. Bunny #8, definitely a maverick who marches to a different drummer, even chooses eight big blueberries to add a bit of sweetness to the pot. Numbers from one to ten are also coordinated to match the bright colors of the ingredients, as are even the colorful soup bowls from which the family feasts in the final festive scene. Caldecott Honor winner (for On Market Street) Anita Lobel puts her familiar folk-art style to fine use in this rustic rabbit tale.

"Many hands make light work," and many fruits of the earth make for fine eating. Anita Lobel knows her onions, and her 10 Hungry Rabbits: Counting & Color Concepts is just in time for Easter-bunny-book season as well as planting season for gardening families and schools. Pair this one with Lois Ehlert's evergreen gardening book, Planting a Rainbow, and get those pre-and primary schoolers planting with pleasure.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Home Alone! All by Myself! by Geraldine Collet

When Mama left the chicken coop, she left me all by myself.

"What if they don't come home before it gets really dark?" worried Leonard.

Misery loves company, and at least Lily, Ivan, Shirley, and Leonard are all in the same boat, er, coop.

Being home alone is SCARY! What if their moms never come back? What do the chicks do?

Well, first they cry. That done, one resourceful chick suggests they strike out looking for their moms. Sensible Lily suggests that they wait until someone shows up to help. Leonard hears sinister sounds, and Disaster Lady Shirley responds with a dire possibility.

"And what if it's a fox who comes?"

One courageous chick dons a superhero cape and offers to leap out and scare away the fox, and a less daring peeper suggests a hiding place, but Crisis Queen Shirley is still not persuaded.

"I can't take it anymore!" shrieked Shirley.

But before panic totally takes possession of the coop, Ivan distracts the group with an ad lib game of "can't catch me." Just as the chicks are beginning to have fun, they hear something at the door of the coop.

Slowly it opens....

Being left on your own for the first time can be an alarming adventure, but all's well that ends well, with all the mamas back home, and with take-out, a surprise treat of grain, in Geraldine Collet's All by Myself! (Owlkids Books, 2012). A deft translation from the French by Sarah Quinn and charming illustrations by Coralie Saudo highlight each chick's particular personality as they come up with their own coping strategies in this engaging edition of the well-worked "where's Mama?" theme.

Kirkus gives this one a rare starred review, saying "Illustrations are full of quirky, mischievous touches sure to bring smiles... This superlatively cute look at the bond between mother and child takes a proud place next to Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson’s Owl Babies."

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Eggs-cellent Art: 50 Easter Things to Make and Do by Kate Knighton, et al

Easter is basically a religious holiday, but like those other dual sacred-and-secular observations Christmas and Halloween, with the folkways of two millennia behind us, Easter has its own secular symbols and celebrations, and those are the stuff of Usborne's 50 Easter Things to Make and Do (Usborne Activities).

Crafty creators Kate Knighton's, Lucia Pratt's, and Fiona Watts' collection of Easter handicrafts are inexpensive to produce, totally charming, kid-and-grownup friendly, and well, that word shunned by children's book reviewers, darn CUTE!

Included inside are a variety of crafts: homemade greeting cards, smudged pastel chicks easily personalized even by non-artists and a surprising open-up chick with a super-simple three-dimensional beak wide open, cottony lambs and fluffy bunnies with soft, touchable tissue coats, strings of pastel eggs to hang like Christmas lights from an Easter tree, over doorways, and around the tablecloth, quaint hats for kids and for colored eggs with silly faces, pecking hens that rock back and forth for table decorations, and directions for rabbit facepaint that even a novice can master instantly--just a few of the dandy and non-daunting designs that these veteran authors serve up. Flowers are up and trees are greening; even the ancients got into the spring thing and made it part of their celebration, and so should we.

Done up in a small spiral-bound board book format with pages of sturdy (and wipe-able) stock, one craft, with materials and step-by-step instructions, complete on each double-page spread, a book that can lie flat or even stand up for easy reference, and charming illustrations done up in the proper Easter egg palette, this one is a real keeper!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Friend to the End? Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham

ZEBRA IS WRITING AN ABC BOOK.

With best friend Moose eagerly looking on, Zebra starts out predictably. A = Apple. B = Ball. C = Cat. No surprises... but so far so good.

But Moose can't wait to get into the act. He pushes his way onto the page, displacing Duck.

"NO, MOOSE DOESN'T START WITH D," Zebra says sternly.

"YOU ARE ON THE WRONG PAGE."

It's not that Moose doesn't know his alphabet. He just can't wait to get into the act. He annoys the Elephant by peeping over the page frame, prodding him with an antler. He pokes his way on the H page and tries to appropriate the Hat for his own head.

Zebra testily points out once more that it's not his turn and proceeds doggedly on through the alphabet. Moose impetuously substitutes himself in Kangaroo's pouch, a tight fit which totally confuses the little Joey. When he gets through L for Lollipop, Moose, sure it's time for his entrance, intervenes again, saying "Here it comes!"

But here it doesn't come. Moose does NOT get the expected M page to himself; Mouse gets that gig. Moose is miffed, and just a little bit hurt as well. As the alphabet winds down to its last letters, Moose redoubles his efforts to put himself in the picture, sprawling over the Truck and sobbing when Whale fills the whole page. Zebra comes down to Z, and Moose despairs. Z is certainly going to be reserved for author Zebra, and it looks like Moose is not going to make the cut! Not only will he not be in the book, but this must mean that Zebra is not his friend anymore.

It's A for Amazing that their creators continue to come up with ways to present the well-worn alphabet in fresh and funny ways, but author Kelly Bingham and Caldecott winning artist Paul O. Zelinsky have certainly made the A-team with their new collaboration, Z Is for Moose (Greenwillow, 2012). As Mo Willems and Lane Smith have done in their recent titles, the two play with the very limitations of the book, as Zelinsky's meddlesome Moose constantly pushes his way onto the page, high-stepping over the blackline page frame, hanging over it, and strolling innocently into the illustration with sappy sangfroid. Zelinsky dresses his Zebra ironically, in a referee's striped shirt as he tries to bring some order to Moose's efforts to insert himself into the sequence of the alphabet. Bingham adds giggle-producing dialogue into the illustrations themselves with her speech balloons, as when the little kangaroo looks askance at the huge and hooved interloper in his place in mom's pouch, and querulously whimpers, "Mommy, who's THAT?" This is a D for Delightful alphabet book, which works as straightforward teaching tool as well as a humorous look at ways to work out the kinks in a friendship.

And oh, yes! Moose does get his own moment on the Z page as Zebra's best friend.

Kirkus Reviews come through with their own suggestion: "Just label it F for Funny!"

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Fitting Knitting! Little Lamb, Have You Any Wool? by Isabel Martins

"Little Lamb, little lamb
have you any wool?

My fingers are as icy as little icicles.
My toes are just like little snowballs."

Who is warm and snug in winter? A woolly lamb, of course!

This boy has knitting needles and chilly fingers and toes.

His sheep has fine coat of fleece.

It seems somebody is about to be shorn.

"Little friend, if you're that cold,
I will let you take my wool and
you can knit it all up."

With that altruistic offer, our little lad is keen to get knitting, and once the deal is done, it's not long before a cozy cap, a fleecy scarf, and a cuddly coat spiral from his nimble needles. He's as toasty as a toad in a hole.

But shearer's remorse soon sets in. Now he notices that his lamb looks a little chilly in the frosty breezes.

What to do? Well, he's got yards of yarn and nifty knitting knowledge, and soon boy and sheep are both sporting the latest in woolen winter wear!

Isabel Martins' just published Little Lamb, Have You Any Wool? (Owlkids Books, 2012), cheerily illustrated by Yara Kono, is a fanciful look at woolen goods in her freeform take-off on the well-known nursery rhyme "Baa Baa Black Sheep," with her apt adaptation of the old adage, revised to read "shear and share alike." Ranch-raised or sheep-smart kids may be moved to point out that sheep are always sheared in spring and have put on plenty of wool by the following fall, which gives the teacher or adult reader an opening for a short disposition on literary license here! Realities of the wool industry aside, this book is an imaginative way to think about how we get our warm winter duds and whom we ought to thank for them. Pair this one with Tomie de Paola's classic tale of woolmongering, Charlie Needs a Cloak for some storytime fun with fleece.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Self-Esteem on Steroids: King Hugo's Huge Ego by Chris Van Dusen

LONG AGO WHEN PEOPLE SPOKE
WITH WORDS LIKE "THOU" AND "THEE,"
THERE LIVED A KING NAMED HUGO
WHO WAS NO MORE THAN THREE FEET THREE.

AND THOUGH THIS MINI-MONARCH
STOOD NO HIGHER THAN AN ELF,
HIS EGO WAS ENORMOUS--
HE THOUGHT HIGHLY OF HIMSELF.

Literally and figuratively, King Hugo has the original big head, sitting precariously on his minuscule body. But Hugo is blind to his own faults, physical and otherwise. Each week he submits his unfortunate subject to his "Speech of Adoration," in which he glorifies himself to the skies, while his people stifle the urge to barf and kneel at the times he deigns appropriate. After all, they know that failure to show proper obeisance is a one-way ticket to the executioner's block.

That is, they all know it except for Tessa, a spirited peasant girl with special talents. When Hugo orders her and her flock out of his royal way and knocks her into the roadside mud, Tess has had it with her swell-headed sovereign.

"...O COCKY KING
IN ROBES OF RUBY RED,
LET'S SEE IF ALL YOUR ARROGANCE
CAN FIT INSIDE YOUR HEAD."

Tessa's curse is potent, and every time King Hugo opens his mouth in self-glorification, his head increases in size, and soon his noggin is enormous, too big for his tiny body to support and he has to be towed around like some runaway Thanksgiving parade hot-air balloon.

Many indignities to Hugo's royal person ensue, and eventually the egotistical king gets the message and apologizes to the beauteous and apparently magical Tessa.

"I'VE BEEN UNKIND AND RUDE.
PLEASE STAY WITH ME AND TEACH ME HOW
TO CHANGE MY ATTITUDE.

Chris Van Dusen's King Hugo's Huge Ego ((Candlewick, 2011) provides a comeuppance for the supercilious sovereign and a romantic ending for Tessa and Hugo to boot, a satisfying conclusion to his latest kid-pleasing rib tickler. Van Dusen's rhymes are sprightly and his strong comic style, filled with humorous visual asides, will keep kids chuckling all the way to the final page. "...a terrific mélange of satire, slapstick, and caricature, all served up with expert comic timing," says Publishers Weekly.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sisters, Sisters! Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin

Half and hour ago my sister locked me out of her room. Then she opened her door long enough to hang this sign on it:

NO PEARL

Then she closed the door again. It was the sixth time Lexie had hung the NO PEARL sign that month
.

Lexie is thirteen. She has a lot going for her--a neat room, great grades, lots of friends, many interests, from violin to soccer to knitting, a boyfriend, a bra, and her own key and cell phone. Inveterate list-maker Pearl charts her sister's qualities in a table along with her own and sees that Lexie has a point in finding her company uninteresting at best. Lexie is nine, a reluctant student; her room is a mess; she has no friends except Justine, a first grader who lives down the hall. Her only notable interest is collecting stuffed animals, and she is forced to list her cat Bitey as her boyfriend.

Pearl looks at her list ruefully, but is clueless at what to do with her uninspiring life. Spying on Lexie and struggling to overhear her phone conversations through the bathroom wall are the only exciting activities she can come up with, and Lexie understandably retreats to her room behind her NO PEARL sign and her locked door.

But then Grandaddy Bo has a bad fall and it becomes evident that he's not going to be able to continue to live alone out in New Jersey. As he moves in to Pearl's room, Lexie and Pearl suddenly find themselves unwilling roommates, sharing bunk beds, a small closet and bureau, and more time together than Lexie thinks she can bear. It's time for Pearl to come up with another of her famous lists, new rules for living with (and understanding) her big sister. Some items become immediately obvious after Pearl's first efforts to get attention from Lexie's friends:

1. Don't hide Lexie's shoes, even if you think it's funny.

2. Don't show Lexie's boyfriend her baby blanket.

3. Don't talk about her throwup.

Some take more observation and and something new to Pearl--insight:

7. Listen to what Lexie says. I mean really listen and then pay attention. It's important to pay attention.

8. Take her seriously. She has no sense of humor about herself and everything embarrasses her.

Pearl has an epiphany when she realizes that fear of embarrassment is the secret to Lexie's behavior. The breakthrough in their relationship comes when Lexie, who claims to be too "mature" for Halloween, finally agrees to dress up and take Pearl and Justine trick-or-treating. Lexie even comes up with a costume as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and as they make their rounds, she gets in the spirit of the night and begins to have fun--until she meets up with a frenemy from her class at school:

Our buckets--all three of them--were growing heavier, and when we stepped into the fourth-floor hallway, I heard Lexie draw in her breath. "Uh-oh," she said softly.

"What--," I started to say, but I stopped when I saw a girl Lexie's age at the other end of the hall. Lexie didn't expect to run into Mandy or anyone else she knew.

Mandy was walking with two little kids, holding tight to their hands. Mandy, I hate to point out, was not wearing a costume--or carrying a bag.

"Lexie!!" exclaimed Mandy, and she began to laugh. "WHAT are you doing?"

By now it was plain to just about everyone in the world, probably even to babies, that my sister was trick-or-treating. It was also plain that Mandy Stanworth was not.

"She's--," said Justine, but I clapped my hand over her mouth.

"My sister's taking my friend Justine and me trick-or-treating," I spoke up. "Lexie didn't want to wear a costume," I went on, "but I had a tantrum and yelled, 'I can't go without my sister with me! And she has to wear a costume.' I cried until my parents made her dress up like Dorothy."

Pearl even ad-libs a non-existent sick cousin for whom Lexie has thoughtfully offered to collect a bag of treats, and Mandy is suitably impressed with Lexie's maturity. Lexie is grateful for her sister's rescue and suitably impressed with Pearl's insight into the situation from her point of view. It's a turning point in the sisters' relationship, and the reader is sure that Pearl's side of her sibling comparison list is going to be looking up from now on.

Ann M. Martin's latest, Ten Rules for Living with My Sister (Feiwel & Friends, 2011) shows off the Newbery-winning author's insight and skill in portraying developing relationships with friends and siblings in fiction that rivals that of Beverly Cleary's famous stories of Beezus and Ramona. Publishers Weekly says, "Credible characterizations, on-the-nail humor, and well-observed family dynamics add up to another hit."

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Up and Down and Back Again: A Meal of the Stars by Dana Jensen

with/fire/and/fury/
the/rocket/ blasts/
across/the/cerulean/sky/
toward/the/pitch/-black/beauty /
of/endless/silent/space

In a slim book of seventeen poems, Dana Jensen's A Meal of the Stars: Poems Up and Down (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) celebrates all things vertical, both from the bottom up, from earth to outer space, and from the top down, as in the case of falling waters:

roaring/crashing/sparkling/and/white
oh/what/a/thunder/
heaving/its/mighty/heart/
the/waterfall/splashes/out/
its/ lovely/blue/music
on/the/slippery/rocks/below.

What makes Jensen's poems unique is that all of the poems are presented one word per line, ten poems from the bottom up, as they describe things that go up--a giraffe's neck, a zipper, a rocket, an elevator, a winter tree with a nest at the top, to be read, bottom up, as in this one:
again
hatch
to
songs
and
birds
and
eggs
and
spring...

...and seven poems are printed the customary way, from top to bottom:

the
bongs
of
the
far-
off
bells
float
down....

This design device is not entirely new to children's poetry, with quite a few earlier books presenting "shaped poems" with the lines of type laid out on page to form the outline of their subjects. Jensen's forthcoming volume is unique in its focus upon things that are vertical in orientation, and her use of this device really focuses the reader on the descriptive flow of her words. Some of the poems are lyric and some have appealing touches of humor, such as the one describing Dad's ascent rung by rung up a long ladder to the top of the roof to paint... "the/spot/he/missed/the/first/time/up and a zipper which must be zipped... all the way so that snowflakes/don't/sneak/in/and/tickle/me." Each word here gains weight when it is the only one on a line, with no meter or verse form to distract from the flow.

Notable artist Tricia Tusa contributes her charming ink and watercolor illustrations, her familiar comic kid figures extending the text in pictures which invite long looks, making this debut a real contribution to this year's poetry offerings, lots of fun to read silently or aloud for the up-coming Poetry Month.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Skating from the Heart: It's A Big World, Little Pig! by Kristi Yamaguchi


POPPY WAS A PIG WHO DREAMED BIG.

ONE DAY POPPY RECEIVED A BEAUTIFUL INVITATION:

"FLY TO PARIS, FRANCE, AND COMPETE IN THE WORLD GAMES."

Poppy is thrilled to be invited, but soon big-time jitters set in. Paris a lo-o-n-g way from home. She won't know anyone. And everyone will be speaking a different language! Her parents and grandparents agree...it's a big world, but after all, isn't she a pig who dreams big? And her best friend Emma gives her some good advice.


"REMEMBER, EVERYBODY SMILES IN THE SAME LANGUAGE."

At the World Village, Poppy tries out Emma's advice when she distractedly bumps into a snow boarder from China named Li, who offers to share his map. She meets a skier from Italy and discovers they share a passion for pasta, pizza, gelato, and the operas of Poochini. A skater from Japan talks costume design with Poppy, an Aussie athlete teaches her to say "Hooroo," and Poppy and her new social network all wish each other good luck in different languages but with the same smile.

Poppy puts all her heart into her performance, and her proud parents treat her to a week in Paris, with plenty of Parisian gustatory treats to boot, It's a big world, but a small world, too, Poppy decides, when everyone smiles.

Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi's latest picture book with her improbable figure-skating pig, It's a Big World, Little Pig! (Jabberwocky, 2012), skims through this light-hearted story of international competition, again propelled by Tim Bowers' pastel-tinted illustrations, as Yamaguchi reaffirms her theme of following your heart and giving it your best, with the added theme of overcoming fear of new situations, and the added fillip of learning how to say "hello" and "good-bye" in different lingos. Fans of Yamaguchi's first book, Dream Big, Little Pig!, will glide and spin smoothly into this newest one as Poppy follows her dream all the way to the big time!

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