BooksForKidsBlog

Friday, August 31, 2012

Work In Progress: Middle School--Get Me Out of Here! by James Patterson

MOM THROWS A CURVEBALL

The next morning Mom made really good French toast for breakfast. With bananas and maple syrup. and extra cinnamon on mine.

"Rafe, when you're done, I want you to put on the shirt I left out for you," Mom said. "And clean pants, please."

That stopped me with a mouthful of everything. Nothing good ever happens in clothes your mom picks out for you.

As far as Rafe Khatchadorian is concerned life has already thrown him a sinker. Just as he thought he was at least on first base with a scholarship seventh grade year at Airbrook Art Academy, a grease-fire-cum-conflagration at Swifty's Diner puts the kabosh on mom's waitress job, and the whole family is forced to move in with Grandma Dotty, who is (a bit dotty, that is) in the city, facing seventh grade in an inner-city middle school.

But Rafe's former teacher Mrs. Donatello (nee Dragon Lady) comes through again and wangles him a slot at Cathedral School of the Arts. Tuition is free, and so, thinks Rafe, is he--free of those state-of-the-art middle school bullies back home.

But Rafe reckons without regard to real life. Mean kids, he discovers, are part of the package even in art school, and when his first project, a self-portrait, is up for a crit, (critique) by the whole class, Rafe is subject to a brutal dinking, led by the resident well-heeled popular kid Zeke McDonald with his henchman Kenny Patel, sending Rafe into a self-esteem tailspin and permanent lunch periods in a stall in the boys' bathroom.

"To be honest, Mr. Beekman," says Kenny, "I don't think Rafe's portrait tells us very much, except what he looks like." Kenny turned around and looked back at me like there was a pile of doggy droppings on the chair. "Well... maybe not even that," he said, and a bunch of people laughed.

But in his new power lunch place, Rafe is discovered by another of Zeke's victims, Matty the Freak, and the two decide to bond in a bit of sweet revenge, bombing Zeke and Kenny with water-filled rubber gloves from the roof as the two meanies eat lunch on the outside steps. A friend and fellow conspirator is good, but soon the impulsive Rafe is drawn into a series of hilarious but art-career-threatening misadventures with Matty. Advised by his teacher that good art grows out of the artist's life, Rafe comes up with another grand Plan, his OPERATION GET A LIFE! Some of his self-imposed tasks are innocuous, such as walking backward around the block; some of them, dumpster-diving with Matty, result in cool found objects for his Scrap Sculpture project; one, a surveillance project to discover more about his missing father from the mysterious Hairy the barber, uncovers a family link, but as Matty the Freak continues to up the ante on the Operation, things get more than a little hairy for our hero. In-school suspension follows the kidnap-Zeke-and Kenny's-Scrap-Project Caper, and then Zeke exacts total cyber revenge when time for the crit for their digital arts project rolls around.

"Okay, Rafe, let's see what you have for us," Mr. Crawley said. "What's the name of your project?"

"Kid in Wall," I said. (What can I say. Titles just aren't my thing.)

Mr. Crawley punched a couple of keys. But instead of Kid in A Wall...

The whole computer lab went totally quiet. Nobody laughed. I don't even think anybody breathed.

After that, I couldn't tell you, because I'd already walked out of the room.

Totally humiliated by the revelation of his anxiety about his missing father in a swiped drawing captioned "I don't think he's coming back," Rafe takes flight, heading for his former hometown, Hills Valley, on a smelly bus, with vague plans to begin a hermit's life in the family's rented storage locker, a total loser at art and life.

In this non-stop sequel to their best-selling Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life, authors James Patterson's and Chris Tebbett's latest middle-school saga, Middle School: Get Me out of Here! (Little, Brown, 2012) ranges between the heights of hilarity and the pits of pathos as his hero Rafe Khachadorian careens through yet another middle school year. Illustrated by the talented and sensitive Laura Parks' comic cartoon drawings of Rafe's escapades in near graphic-novel style, this latest book is one all middle schoolers (and former middle schoolers of all ages) will find a really fine read, a humorous but fine-tuned story that tickles the funny bone and touches the heart.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Who's Special? Very Special Friends by Jane Chapman

ONE MORNING MOUSE HOPPED TO THE EDGE OF THE RIVER. AND THERE SHE SAT, WAITING FOR HER SPECIAL FRIENDS.

What is so rare as a summer's day? Having just the right special friends to share it with.

As Mouse waits and watches the butterflies fluttering over the grass, Rabbit appears and inquires about what she's doing there.

"THEN I'LL WAIT WITH YOU. MAY I?" ASKS RABBIT POLITELY.

As the two enjoy the buzzing of the bees and the breeze from the river. Frog hops by, inquires about what they are doing, and asks innocuously if he can tag along while Mouse waits. As the three are enjoying their visit, Turtle creeps by, inquires about their mission, and generously share his lunch with the bunch. The four enjoy a cozy nap in the shade, and wake as the sun is sliding behind the trees. Mouse makes noises about making her way home.

"OH, DON'T GIVE UP YET," CRIED RABBIT.

"WE CAN WAIT WITH YOU." SAID FROG.

"BUT YOU 'RE ALL HERE!" SAID MOUSE. "WHO COULD BE MORE SPECIAL THAN YOU?"

Illustrator of the beloved Bear Snores On and sequels, in her latest, Very Special Friends (Good Books, 2012), Jane O'Connor has given us a sweet and summery tale of friendship, reminiscent of Lobel's Frog and Toad tales, illustrated softly and told well, in her own gentle style.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

School Days: Olivia and the Best Teacher Ever by Ilanit Oliver

"GOOD MORNING, CLASS!" SAID MRS. HOGGENMULLER. "I WOULD LIKE YOU TO WELCOME SOMEONE WHO IS JOINING OUR US FOR THE DAY."

EVERYONE LOOKED UP, EAGER TO MEET THEIR MYSTERY GUEST.

"THIS IS MRS. STERN," MRS. HOGGENMULLER SAID.

"I'M PICKING THE BEST TEACHER TO WIN THE CITY'S BEST TEACHER OF THE YEAR AWARD," ANNOUNCED MRS. STERN SERIOUSLY.

That gets the class's attention. Everyone thinks Mrs. H. is the best teacher ever, and they resolve to be the best class ever--at least for the day. As the excited class learns, the winning teacher gets his or her picture on the side of every school bus in town!

But Mrs. Stern's evaluation visit doesn't go as smoothly as the kids hope. Mrs. Hoggenmuller's story puts the evaluator in a snooze, and during art, as Olivia makes a reflexive move to keep Daisy from spraying paint on the visitor, she knocks the terrarium over, releasing the class's pet frog, Hopper, who finds refuge from the clamor on top of Mrs. Stern's head. Mrs. Stern is now wide awake, but not pleased.

Mrs. Hoggenmuller can forget about the Best Teacher Award for this year! Her picture is NOT going to be plastered on the sides of buses if Mrs. Stern has anything to say about it!

Olivia racks her brain. What can the class do to make it up to the hard-working and deserving Mrs. Hoggenmuller?

Ian Falconer's famous pig-girl with attitude comes through again with a winning idea in OLIVIA and the Best Teacher Ever, (Simon Spotlight, 2012), adapted by Shane L. Johnson and Ilanit Oliver. Back-to-school time wouldn't be the same without the ever-clever Olivia and her lively classmates and and of course the ever-ready Mrs. Hoggenmuller.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ensemble! The Applewhites at Wit's End by Stephanie Tolan

It was a dark and stormy night when Rudolph Applewhite arrived home from New York to announce the end of the world.

It's not an approaching Apocalypse that the hyperbolic head of the kooky Applewhite household and noted theatre director announces. It's the iconic financial cliff, caused by a dastardly embezzlement of investment funds, that threatens the foreclosure of their creative enclave and homeschooling operation based in a former off-the-beaten path motor lodge now appropriately christened "Wit's End." Although the clan's various artistic endeavors are marginally profitable, the ongoing payments of their mortgage are in jeopardy unless the Applewhites can gen up a generous infusion of cash before autumn.

The various adult artists--mystery writer, furniture and wood sculpture stylists, assorted dancers, poets, photographers, and the four talented Applewhite children--brainstorm a solution--a creative summer camp named Eureka! for gifted children. The burden of organization falls largely on thirteen-year-old E.D., the "non-creative" Applewhite and the only one with managerial skills, who soon creates spreadsheets, data bases, and schedules for the "counselors," all members of the eccentric clan except foster kid, Jake Semple, city bad boy kicked out of every school system in Rhode Island and now a promising musical comedy star.

Only six kids finally show up on Eureka's opening day, all self-centered kids between eleven and fourteen, all obviously gifted in albeit strange ways and all pampered by their own self-absorbed but wealthy parents. There are the identical twins, talented whiner Cinnamon and cheery poet Ginger, who only wear blue and green, David, a singer whose Botticelli-angel good looks cause the sensible E.D. to be instantly smitten, "Q," a likewise talented singer and dancer who becomes David's instant rival, Harley, son of uber-tattooed punk-rock star parents, whose only interest seems to be photographing dead stuff, and Samantha, a talented, uh, reader with no interest in anything.

With only six clients, the Applewhites pinch their pennies and being creative, improvise materials with the help of E.D.'s detailed workshop schedules, hoping to scrape through the summer with enough money to save their homestead. Unfortunhately, the campers, all free spirits themselves, revolt against E.D.'s rigid rounds of compulsory seminars. The Applewhites are forced to ditch the well-rounded workshop format and punt--winging it with an ensemble effort that gradually creates a dynamic esprit de corps among the diverse campers as well.

And it is a good thing they succeed, because Rudolph begins to receive poison pen letters threatening to report the many supposed violations of state regulations for summer camps to the authorities. And when a dark-suited, clipboard-toting "official" is spotted, lurking in the woods and taking notes and samples of their somewhat rustic and mucky-bottomed pond in use as camp swimming pool, the Applewhites swing into joint defensive action, provided with a uniquely creative plan devised by Jake and E.D. and starring all the campers who are now in cahoots to keep the camp open. Even their portly Bassett hound Winston and bellicose billy goat Wolfbane get in on the act as the family comes up with their most creative and dramatic ensemble improvisation yet.

Stephanie Tolan's sequel to her Newbery-winning Surviving the Applewhites, the delightful Applewhites at Wit's End (HarperCollins, 2012) again focuses on Jake, he of the piercings and iconic Mohawk, and the sensible E.D., she of the spreadsheets and logical mind, who again prove their value to their quirky nuclear family (and begin a promising romantic attraction) as main characters. Not since Helen Cresswell's The Bagthorpes saga has such a eccentricly creative family won similar kudos from reviewers and a following from middle readers. Let's hope that Tolan comes up with more ensemble performances from the bizarre but lovably diverse Applewhites.

“Tolan has pulled off something special here.” says Booklist in a coveted starred review.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Remember? Really and Truly by Emilie Rivard

When I was little, my grandpa used to tell me lots of stories.

Some days he'd say, "Charlie, did I ever tell you about the pirate who lives in my attic?"

Now...Grandpa doesn't tell stories anymore.

When we walk in the room, he doesn't even turn around. The cars driving by outside are more interesting that we are. Mom just lets Grandpa look out the window. I can tell it makes her sad.

Charlie worries about how he can make Grandpa remember who they are. He struggles to think of a way to make him look at them and to give them that well-remembered smile of his.

Finally, Charlies tries something new. He remembers something Grandpa used to do when
he was little and wouldn't eat his dinner. As Granpa ignores his dinner, Charlie decides to try the same technique.

"I am Mansa, the most famous hunter in all Africa," said Charlie. "I hunt only the most tender, most delicious gazelles for you.... Don't you want to try a bite?"

At first Grandpa looks surprised. He raises an eyebrow. Then he pokes his fork into a meatball.... Little by little, he eats everything on his plate.

It is a small but satisfying success. And then Charlie remembers something which may coax that longed-for smile back from wherever it has gone. Wearing an impromptu cape, he proclaims that he is another of Grandpa's fantastical characters--the Great Albini, come to perform the most magical trick of all. Will Grandpa look at him with a really and truly smile?

Abracadabra super spaghetti.
Abracadabra rainbow confetti,
Come out, smile, come out and play!

In Emilie Rivard's Really and Truly (Owlkids Books, 2012) Charlie and his mom enjoy a brief moment of contact with Grandpa, a small moment but a needed one in what is really and truly a sad but common experience of the painful loss in dealing with dementia. Rivard's straightforward text and artist Anne-Claie Delisle's sensitive illustrations make this picture book a good way to begin the difficult conversation with a child about this difficult subject.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nurturing a Reader

The start of the school year focuses parents on reading as an academic skill, but, really, learning to read should begin in infancy, long before children can even turn a page for themselves, much less before they enter a classroom.

Letters and words and illustrations and even photographs are really symbols, something that the human brain is somehow hardwired to grasp and create almost from the beginning; Parents who introduce their little ones to that form of communication early on are helping them become fully human--and of course, readers.

[Note: The father shown above is reading a book saved from his own days as a tot. The baby in the picture was two months old at the time. He is now a third-grader, and will no doubt finish the final Harry Potter book by the time he celebrates his eighth birthday in November.]

I'm often asked how to "make" a child become a reader, but it is usually a naturally developing ability if the child's environment includes lots of books and words and paper and pencils and being read to every day. You can read my interview in the BizyMoms box on the right sidebar, but don't just take it from me. Check out this article that says it well from Common Sense Media. And take time to sit down and read for yourself in your child's presence as often as possible! It's true. You are your child's first and most important teacher.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Peas Be with You! 1-2-3 Peas by Keith Baker



THREE PEAS BOATING: ROW! ROW! ROW!

FOUR PEAS PLANTING: GROW, GROW, GROW!

The PEAS are back in Keith Baker's re-PEA-t appearance of his best-selling pedagogic peas, introduced in LMNO Peas, this time teaching numbers in his new 1-2-3 Peas (Beach Lane, 2012).

While it is a temptation to pun that this latest pea-saga isn't a patch on his alphabet outing, these numerical peas will doubtless please the preschool crowd. Baker's page design, with all bright-white pages (except for the 60s, a darker decade!) showing off his large pastel numerals as well as the numbers spelled out, works perfectly as a counting primer, but as in the earlier book, the antics of his anthropomorphic stick-limbed peas will charm the eye of youngsters, who will wish to to pea-ruse each page re-peatedly, while his pea-puns have their own wry ap-PEA-l to the adult who reads both books aloud. (For example, sharp-eyed adults will note the fab four "Peatles" and a glitzy "Peayonce'" putting in an appearance among the peas .)

Thanks to Keith Baker, kids, teachers, and parents will find both of these titles perfectly pea-chy, and youngsters will never think of that much maligned veggie in the same way again. "... Families are sure to devour Baker's latest winner. Totally ap-pea-ling!" quips Kirkus.

And for a perfect preschool pairing, there's a taste of LMNO Peas here.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

School Days: Marley: The Dog Who Ate My Homework created by John Grogan

Marley was waiting for Cassie to come home.

He'd been waiting all day to play fetch.

"Not now, Marley," Cassie said. "I have to work on my project for school."

Ignoring the hopeful Marley with his entire collection of balls assembled by the door, Cassie is intent on mission solar system model--with her thoughts solely on finding spherical objects to represent the sun and its eight planets. Dashing into the kitchen to tell her mother about the project, her gaze falls on the full fruit bowl on the table. A big grapefruit, apples, oranges.... perfect!

Soon Cassie has built her model from string, straws, and nine assorted sizes of fruit, and hangs it from the dining room chandelier to keep it out of harm's way until morning. Marley thinks his time to play ball has come at last.

"Sorry, Marley! Now I need to write my report on the planets and the sun!" said Cassie, as she hurries off to her desk.

Poor Marley. There's no time for playing fetch that night, and when Cassie and the family finally go to bed, Marley sadly heads for his own bed, too. But no sooner has he curled up than he hears an intriguing thump from the next room.

Dashing into the dining room, Marley sees what made the sound. The big grapefruit which was playing the role of the sun has fallen. The solar system's balance is out of whack and it is spinning crazily. Marley knows it's his job to help Cassie out.

"Oh, no! If I take a bite of this one," Marley thought, "the balls will line up again."

Marley bites into one of the orange balls. It was SO sweet!"

Young readers will know exactly where this story is going, and of course when Cassie comes downstairs to pack up her project the next morning, there are no intact planets left, and Marley has a telltale orange juice stain on his ruff. Where can Cassie find enough new spheres to replace her "planets?" Guess who can show her just the balls to rebuild her model in a jiffy?

Continuing the adventures of John Grogan's irrepressible Marley, Harper's illustrious I-Can-Read series has a new school-time title, Marley: The Dog Who Ate My Homework (I Can Read Book 2) (Harper, 2012) just in time for back-to-school reading for early readers. Caitlin Birch's well-paced, controlled vocabulary text makes for easy reading for primary students, and Rick Whipple does a jolly job of illustrating the now-famous members of the Grogan family and their pesky pooch.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Princess Pen-Pals: Dear Cinderella by Marian Moore and Mary Jane Kensington

Dear Cinderella,

I am so happy we are going to be pen pals. I live in a great big castle with my mean step-mother. Even though I am a princess, she make me work all the time.

I wish I lived in some faraway place where dreams come true.

SIGH. It's not easy being a fairy tale princess. Snow and Cindy have their mean step-mothers in common, and as their letters fly back and forth, the two soon become BFFs. Both counsel the other to keep a positive outlook, smile through their tears, and keep singing as they do their step-mothers' dirty work.

"Singing and dancing when you are scrubbing, washing, and cleaning make the chores seem like fun,” writes Cinderella helpfully.

“I have been singing and dancing ever since I read your letter,” Snow White gushes.

If this were a movie musical, Cindy and Snow would launch into a split-screen duet dance version of "Someday My Prince Will Come" at this point, with chirping bluebirds fluttering all 'round.

The two would-be princess brides share their dreams of a Prince Charming who will take them away from all of these chores, and confide their fears that their step-mothers have more nefarious events than merely scrubbing and sweeping planned for them. When the unwary Snow White confides in a missive that she is so looking forward to a day far away from her tasks, picnicking in the forest with the jovial huntsman, readers will, of course, know what's up, and when later at the Seven Dwarfs' cottage an old apple seller comes to the door, the fairy tale cognoscenti will be crying "No, Snow! Don't eat that apple!!" Likewise, when Cindy gets left behind, still toiling on her homemade gown on the night of the ball, savvy readers will know that she'll soon be dancing the light fantastic in her glass slippers with a certain prince.

Although some reviewers have tagged this fluffy princess tale as "vapid," it can just as easily be read as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the whole Disneyesque take on the classics. Older (third, fourth, or fifth graders, say) who may have read the original grim Grimm tales, will chuckle at this bubbly parody, and younger readers will enjoy being in the know when famous elements of the plot are foreshadowed in the girls' perky epistles.

Taken as an intermediate step between the literary license of Disney films and the grim realities of cut-off toes and carved-out hearts of the original tales, this story has its niche. Considered as part of the growing "fractured fairy tale genre," Marian Moore and MaryJane Kensington's light-hearted new Dear Cinderella (Orchard Books, 2012) can be good fun for fans of the two venerable fairy tale princesses who keep smiling on the way to their happy-ever-after.

For a preview look, the book's trailer is here.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Self-Defense: The Accused: Theodore Boone Series (Book 3) by John Grisham

Theo knew it was wrong, maybe not illegal, but certainly wrong.

The line between right and wrong had always been clear; now, though, nothing was clear. The wrongs were piling on top of him. It was wrong for someone to break into his locker and plant stolen loot with the obvious goal of getting him in trouble. It was wrong for someone to stalk him, to slash his tires and throw a rock through his window. Theo had done nothing wrong, yet was now being treated like a criminal. And if Theo were to be charged by the police, another wrong would occur. Was it wrong for Theo to steal a password, all in an effort to prevent another, much larger wrong?

Could doing something wrong lead to the right result?

Theo Boone knows that someone is out to get him. Accustomed to being on the sunny side of the law and order line, Theo Boone, kid lawyer, finds himself accused of a major felony, the forcible entry and burglary of an electronics store. When his school locker appears to have been vandalized and his favorite baseball cap stolen, Theo figures it is just part of a bully's on-going harassment. Running late, he puts off reporting the theft to the school office, and when four stolen netpads are found in his locker, the police seem certain they have the right felon.

Theo deduces that the planted goods are part of the chain of events--three slashed bike tires and a rock thrown through the window of his parents' law office, obviously meant to intimidate him--and he is certain that someone is out to exact revenge upon him and through him on his parents, but who and for what? With everything coming down on him, Theo knows that the only way he is going to escape being the defendant himself in a trial for robbery is to find the real thief first.

Theo turns to his sometime mentor, his disbarred, ne'er-do-well Uncle Ike, who shrewdly deduces that someone in his school is exacting retribution for a nasty divorce case handled by his mother. But to determine which of his classmates is holding that deep a grudge requires that Theo obtain the password to his mom's secured files. Can two wrongs make a right in this case?

As in most of his adult fiction, the protagonist in Book 3 of his Theodore Boone series, Theodore Boone: The Accused (Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer) (Dutton, 2012) doesn't always play it by the book, operating in the gray areas of right and wrong, going for what he sees as the greater good. It's easy to pick holes in the author's somewhat Swiss-cheesy plotline, and it is fair to point out that often Theo behaves and talks more like one of Grisham's thirty-something heroes than a middle school kid, but Grisham is first and foremost a storyteller, and once he's laid down his premise, the reader is off and running in one of his fast-moving page-turner legal thrillers. Likened to such staples of the juvenile mystery genre as Enclopedia Brownand Nancy Drew, Theodore Boone combines the qualities of Leroy and Nancy with a generous dose of Perry Mason and a dash of Grisham's iconic renegade hero Mitch McDeere.

Oh, and as for the resolution of the case against the golf course murderer Pete Duffy, indicted by the work of Theo Boone in the series opener, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, readers are going to have to wait for Book 4. Accused wife murderer Pete Duffy disappears without a trace on the night before his trial opens, so we'll have to wait for the next sequel to give our busy kid lawyer a shot at bringing this perpetrator to justice.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blueing the Blues: Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff

DEEP DOWN IN THE DEN
BABY BEAR WAKES UP.

IN THE DEN'S DARK WALL
AN OPENING SLOWLY FILLS WITH LIGHT.
A GLOW SLOWLY CREEPS IN.

"WHAT IS WARMING ME, MAMA?" ASKS BABY BEAR.

"THAT IS THE SUN," MAMA BEAR SAYS.

BABY BEAR SEES YELLOW.

What does a newly awakened bear cub see when he first ventures out into the wide world?

In Ashley Wolff's Baby Bear Sees Blue (Beachlane Books, 2012), Baby Bear sits in the mouth of the den, looking out at a world that is completely new and inviting. The sun is golden and warm and something is waving at him. It's a twig with bright new leaves on the oak, waving in the breeze.

BABY BEAR SEES GREEN

With a visual tip of the hat to the look and gentle mood of Robert McCloskey's classic Blueberries for Sal, Baby Bear's attention is on the sights all around him: jays call to each other, and he sees BLUE. A dark shape darts through the stream--a trout--and Baby Bear sees BROWN; sweet strawberries dangle from the bush, and he sees RED. A butterfly touches down briefly on his head, tickling him lightly, and Baby Bear sees ORANGE.

But then the summer sky darkens, and Baby Bear sees it grow gray, suddenly scored by a slash of lightning. The storm is brief, though, and as it moves away down the hills, Baby Bear suddenly sees some familiar colors==but in a new shape.

"THAT'S A RAINBOW!" SAYS MAMA.

With his color education done for the day, it's time to seek out Mama's warm cuddle and close his eyes. Baby Bear sees BLACK, and that means the colors are sleeping, too--until tomorrow.

Wolff brings her lovely day book full cycle in a quiet but satisfying story that combines the cozy safety of Mama Bear's side with the excitement of new sights and new words in a concept book that preschoolers will understand and to which they will respond, answering the cub's questions after one hearing The story ends, like all such stories should, in a cozy goodnight. Wolff's Mama Bear is big and round and comfortable as she introduces Baby Bear to the wonders of the world, its colors and tastes, and her Baby Bear is fuzzy and round-eyed as he takes it all in. A fine choice for reinforcing basic color concepts and a fine parent-and-child story for any time of the day, especially bedtime.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

"Wild Thing--You Make My Heart Sing!" Wild about You by Judy Sierra

EVERY KID NEED A FAMILY. WE KNOW
THAT IT'S TRUE.
AND TO BRING UP A BABY...IT TAKES A
WHOLE ZOO!

All the pairs at the zoo seem to have babies. Some parents are totally smitten with their offspring's every doing, but a few, like the crocodiles, admit that they can be trouble.

"BLECH! BABIES ARE AWFUL!" THE CROCODILES TOLD THEM.
"THEY BITE AND SCRATCH AND THEY HOWL WHEN YOU HOLD THEM."

THEY WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL THEM TO DO.
AND ON TOP OF ALL THAT, THEY MAKE MOUNTAINS OF POO!

Only the tree kangaroo and the panda pair have no little ones. The would-be panda parents speak right up when the the crocs complain.

"MAY WE HAVE YOUR BABIES?" THE PANDAS ASKED SWEETLY.
"NO, NO!" CRIED THEIR PARENTS. "WE LOVE THEM COMPLETELY!"

There is one potential baby going unclaimed though. The zookeepers have one "endangered species rescue" egg that none of the birds want to adopt. The only taker seems to be the childless tree kangaroo, whose pouch is actually a perfect incubator. And like all doting mothers-to-be, she dreams of a sweet little birdie singing to her in her tree. But, as all parents find out, you get what you get, and when the egg hatches, she discovers that her dreams were a little off the mark.

"I HAVE HATCHED OUT A PENGUIN," SHE SAID. "OH, MY WORD!
I WASN'T EXPECTING THAT KIND OF A BIRD!

PENGUINS DON'T FLY. PENGUINS NEVER SING SWEETLY.
BUT THAT DOESN'T MATTER. I LOVE YOU COMPLETELY.

YES, YOU ARE THE ANSWER TO ALL OF MY WISHES.
THOUGH I MAY NEED SOME HELP...BECAUSE PENGUINS EAT FISHES!"

In their latest unique collaboration, Wild About You! (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), the dynamic duo of Judy Sierra and Marc Brown show that it does take a whole zoo-full of animals to raise that penguin. And when a stray kitten is taken in by the childless pandas, the tiger sends over some extra feline milk while the puffins are providing fishy provender for the little penguin, as the zoo nurtures and welcomes its new adoptive residents.

"HERE'S A COOL PANDACAT.
HERE'S A SWEET PENGAROO!"

"... a distinct Seussian vibe," says Publishers Weekly.

Judy Sierra's jaunty rhymes and Marc Brown's one-of-a-kind illustrations are comic combos, as in their earlier hits, Wild About Books (Irma S and James H Black Honor for Excellence in Children's Literature (Awards)) and ZooZical.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

ZZZZZZZZ! Shhhhhh! Stop Snoring, Bernard by Zachariah Ohora

BERNARD LOVED LIVING IN THE ZOO.

...BEST OF ALL, HE LOVED ...NAP TIME!

Bernard loves his otter family, his really cool pool, and all his nice neighbors. As far as he is concerned, everything is hunky-dory at home in the zoo. But when Bernard begins his beloved naptime, his cousin Grumpy Giles has just one thing to say:

"STOP SNORING, BERNARD!!"

Bernard wants to please, so he takes his noisy naptime to the lake and settles down to snooze.

"STOP SNORING, BERNARD!"

The alligators are angry, and Bernard retreats from all those teeth, turning in for his nap in the zoo's fountain.

"STOP SNORING, BERNARD!!" FRET THE GIRAFFES.

(Not easy for them to say.) But Bernard feels their pain and heads off. Where can he float on his back and get a little shuteye? A puddle? Not so roomy as his usual digs, but Bernard is ready to settle. But, forced to drift off to dreamland in his puddle, Bernard is just dropping off to doze, when...

Well, you know what the elephant shouts.

Poor Bernard. It's getting late, and his naptime has turned into nighty-night time. Finally he takes refuge in a dark, cavernous opening. And strangely enough, no one yells. Bernard wakes up, well rested, just as the residents come flooding inside--a flock of bats. Now Bernard gets it--bats don't sleep at night, so his nocturnal snoring is no problem for them. Now if he could just find someplace to nap in the daytime....

Zachariah O'Hora's first picture book, Stop Snoring, Bernard! (Henry Holt, 2012) features the sort of eye-appealing illustrations that make it irresistible to pick up and open. His graphic style, using thick outlines, dark, deeply saturated colors, and a highly creative use of white space, page design, and thought balloons, makes it a real kid pleaser. The simple story's resolution is not foreshadowed, but the kids won't worry about the ending so long as they can join in on that oft-repeated punch line, "STOP SNORING, BERNARD!"

"Wide black outlines and O'Hora's own display type add graphic pizzazz to spreads featuring charmingly depicted animals. An artist to watch," says Kirkus.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Upside, Downside: Up Above and Down Below by Paloma Valdivia


Some live up above and some live down below.

When the ones on top put on their bathing suits,
the ones down below put up their umbrellas.

Judging from the world map on the front endpapers, this small book appears to be on the subject of life in the northern and southern hemispheres. When spring comes up above, autumn begins down below. One way, it's time to sow. On other side it's time to reap.

On Earth, which way is UP? Which one is RIGHT?

But Paloma Valdivia's Up Above and Down Below (Owl Kids, 2011) is much more than a geographic treatise on life north and south of the Equator. Far from it.

Valdivia's simple treatise has more to do with what we make of differences.

Each page is divided by a horizontal red line. Above, people go about their daily business, herding cows, strolling babies, picking apples, making music. Down below is an almost mirror image, and if the reader turns the book upside down, the ones above become the ones below and vice versa.

But point-of-view is everything, and it seems that on top, people tend to think that the ones on the other side are unlike them. Where one side walks their dog, they think the other side, the ones with reindeer horns, walk their fish instead. But what if they could fly to where the others are? What if they were all in the same place? Now what?


...They can all look at the world the other way around,"

We're all different in the same ways, this philosophical little book seems to be saying, and Valdivia's abstract and stylized graphic design seem to be saying that when you see both sides, you can see that there is no up or down, no we and they. Just us folks. Observant readers will notice that, to illustrate that premise, in the closing endpapers the world map is turned around the other way.

"A visually stunning, gently restrained picture book," says Kirkus Review. "A small book about a big idea."

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back to School: Foxy by Emma Dodd


IT WAS WAY PAST BEDTIME. TOMORROW WAS MONDAY AND EMILY WOLD BE STARTING SCHOOL.

SHE WAS WORRIED.

First-day fears are almost universal. After all, the first day of school is a big deal.

Emily has pre-school jitters all right, but she has something that the rest of us could have used--a magical mentor who, with the wave of his fluffy tail, can grant everything that a first-timer needs. At least, Foxy THINKS he can.

Emily worries that she doesn't have all the right school supplies. No problem, says Foxy. A pencil? Easy-peasy for Foxy's fantastical posterior appendage.

"VOILA! A PENCIL!" SAID FOXY.

"NO, SILLY! THAT'S A PENGUIN!"

A school bag?

"NO, SILLY! THAT'S A PIRATE FLAG."

"I GUESS MAGIC IS HARD!" SAID EMILY.

It seems Foxy's magic tail needs a lit-tle recalibration, but a do-over swaps the penguin-pencil and elephant-eraser for the right stuff. It's all there at last, finally packed up in a cute but conventional school bag. Now Emily's jitters shift to that all important first-day outfit. Foxy's fantastic tail conjures up clown shoes and a cowboy hat (purple!), and Emily decides that, um, she'll get creative with what's already in her closet after all.

Supplies--check. Clothes--check. Now Emily begins to think about the school work itself.

"WHAT IF I'M NOT SMART ENOUGH?"

Foxy can fix that! Emily's head is suddenly a-whirl with a dizzying data dump. Too much information!! she concludes.

"I THINK I'D RATHER LEARN THOSE THINGS AT SCHOOL!"

Now Emily is all set for school, except for one thing--FRIENDS!

And for that, Foxy knows, magic is not needed. Just Emily's already fantastic smile.

Emma Dodd's latest, Foxy (Harper, 2012) has all the right stuff ready for reading on the night before the first day, with just the right touch of worry-vanishing silliness that lightens the mood and helps with sweet preschool dreams.

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Tempest In A Teapot! Fancy Nancy Tea for Two by Jane O'Connor

BREE SAYS, "CLOSE YOUR EYES AND COUNT TO THREE!"

"UN, DEUX, TROIS." (I LOVE COUNTING IN French.)

WHEN I OPEN MY EYES, BREE IS HOLDING A TRAY WITH A FANCY TEA SET ON IT.

"OOO LA LA!

Bree's mother has finally decided that Bree is old enough to be trusted with the prized toy tea set that she and her sister played with when they were little girls. It's a very fancy china set and it still has all its pieces--the teapot AND lid, the sugar bowl, cream pitcher, and all the cups and saucers--lovingly played with and saved just for her. Bree is thrilled, and she and her Best Friend Forever, Nancy Clancy, can't wait to have their first elegante tea party.

Their dolls, Marabelle and Chiffon, are to be honored guests, and as soon as the proper hour for afternoon tea rolls around, the two BFFs and their dolls are dressed in their fanciest and the table is laid with that special tea set.

At first all goes well. Bree and Nancy take turns serving daintily, and then it's time for Marabelle and Chiffon to play hostess with the mostest.

"NOW IT'S MARABELLE'S TURN TO POUR!" I SAY.

"NO!" SAYS BREE. "CHIFFON IS STILL HOSTESS!"

"THAT'S NOT FAIR!" I SAY. "MARABELLE DESERVES TO HAVE A TURN."

I REACH TO TAKE THE TEAPOT. THEN SOMETHING HORRIBLE HAPPENS!

THE TEAPOT GOES FLYING, AND WHEN IT LANDS, ITS LID BREAKS INTO TWO PIECES.

"MY TEA SET IS WRECKED!" SHOUTS BREE. "GO HOME!"

Bree's heirloom teapot has been ruined, and it seems that the teapot lid is not the only thing broken in this event. Will the forever part of best friends forever be history? Is this the final "Au Revoir" for besties Bree and Nancy?

Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy: Tea for Two (Harper, 2012) deals with the emotional fallout from a feud between the two lifelong friends, as Nancy has to face up to the fact that friendship has its trials. O'Connor has a keen insight into the significant transitions of the primary school years, and a serious dispute between close friends is one of those situations that almost all children must work through in that passage. A great friendship can be repaired, but not so easily as a teapot lid, and fans of Nancy Clancy will want to read how this one turns out.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Separation Anxiety: Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli

This is a story about me, Lily.

And me, Jake.

We're twins and we're exactly alike.

Not exactly!

Whatever. This is a book we wrote about the summer we turned eleven and Jake ditched me.

Jake and Lily are fraternal twins, boy and girl, true, but close in a way that only twins can be. They only discover how close they are when, on their sixth birthday, they both awake from identical sleepwalking dreams of their birth:

And when we awoke that night hand in hand at the train station, and it's like the rest of us was finally born. We knew. At last we knew.

It's like a beautiful present had been sitting there for six years and we never noticed it and then finally we did and we tore it open, and... wow! the present was us.

We knew that not everybody can hear their brother from five miles away. We knew that not everybody yells, "I'm stuck!" when it's happening to somebody else.

What an amazing night, the night we unwrapped ourselves.

Jake and Lily discover that they can read each other's thoughts and emotions, that they can communicate silently, across any distance, and sense each other's emotions. Lily christens their special power "goombla." Sure, they're not mirror images, like identical twins. Lily is hot-headed and impetuous, and Jake is more contemplative and slow to speak and act, but they know each other in a unique way. For ten years this closeness makes them want to do everything together, to keep that special feeling of oneness going.

But then, as their eleventh year approaches, that poignant year that is the best of childhood and the end of childhood, things suddenly change. Jake doesn't want to ride bikes with Lily: he wants to ride around with a group of guys who call themselves "the Posse" and spend time looking for nerdy kids ("goobers") to tease and ridicule. Lily suddenly feels torn from part of herself, and she casts about futilely for a way to regain that lost closeness.

Lilly turns to her grandfather, a self-proclaimed "old hippie" who knows since the death of his wife what it means to lose a part of yourself. He tries to counsel Lily, telling her she has to find the "Just Lily" part of her real self and suggests she find an interest that she doesn't share with Jake, a hobby or another friend. Lily's first tries at defining herself are failures, and for the first time she experiences what it means to feel alone and lonely.

Meanwhile, Jake's guy fun begins to pale, as the gang settles upon one "goober," a new kid in the neighborhood--Ernest, a super smart, super-dorky type whose guileless gratitude for what he construes as the gang's "friendship" keeps their loutish leader, The Bumpster, in stitches as he leads his cohorts into tormenting Ernie, vandalizing his tottering clubhouse over and over as Ernie patiently rebuilds. Jake likes the burping contests, the junk-food binges in their "hideout," and riding around town looking cool that goes with membership in the Posse, but he realizes that he's actually beginning to like and respect the off-beat Ernie, and his guilt at their bullying begins to separate him from his buddies. Lily also feels herself changing. Suddenly she meets a new girl and they fall into an easy, empathetic friendship that mirrors the one she's known with her brother.

Is this the end of her special goombla with Jake? Does this summer mean there is no special relationship in the future for the twins?

It's not easy to write absorbing psychological fiction for elementary readers, but as his top-selling, Newbery-winning Maniac Magee proves, Jerry Spinelli is a master of his craft, taking us inside his character's minds while spinning out fast-paced middle reader action with the best of them. In his latest, Jake and Lily (HarperCollins, 2012) Spinelli uses alternating chapters to tell Jake and Lily's story of that definitive summer in their own voices, a summer which leaves them with a new sense of self and a new understanding for the other as well.

Says Publishers Weekly, "Spinelli adroitly balances emotional tension with introspective moments in this smart and funny story about a pair of twins growing apart."

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back to School: Rocket Writes A Story by Tad Hills

ROCKET LOVED BOOKS.

HE LOVED TO READ THEM TO HIMSELF OR SIT BY HIS TEACHER THE LITTLE YELLOW BIRD AS SHE READ THEM ALOUD.

ROCKET EVEN LIKED THE WAY BOOKS SMELL.

ROCKET LOVED WORDS, TOO.

And the flip side of reading is writing. Having mastered reading, Rocket feels the need to write, to use all those clever, useful, inspiring words he has collected in a story of his own. He tells all his friends what he plans.

And then...

HE LOOKED DOWN AT THE BLANK PAGE AND THE BLANK PAGE LOOKED BACK AT HIM.

"I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE," HE TOLD HIS TEACHER.

Rocket has writer's block!

His teacher gives him the usual advice. Observe what you see, listen to people that interest you, describe what they do and say, think about how they do it. Write about what you like. And one more thing...

"REMEMBER, STORIES TAKE TIME."

And Rocket does, and as he notices a pine cone and a feather floating down from a tree, his observations take him to a meeting with a shy young owl high in the pine, and as Rocket begins to write, the little owl comes down, closer and closer, to hear what the story is saying.

Tad Hills' latest, Rocket Writes a Story (Schwartz & Wade, 2012) is a worthy follow-up to his best-selling How Rocket Learned to Read (see my review here), with his appealing little pooch Rocket and his enthusiastic quest for literacy, this time venturing out into putting his words into writing his own stories to read to others. Great for a pre-taste of that next grade or for a first-week-of-school read-aloud as the students prepare to put their own special words down in writing.

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