Sunday, September 30, 2012

Where ARE Those Pesky Peepers? Peep, Peep, I Love You by Sandra Magsamen


But first you have to FIND them!

Sandra Magsamen's new board book, Peep, Peep, I Love You! (Made with Love) (Hanny Girl, 2012), offers an opportunity to locate farm animal babies and learn their names and sounds. Calves, lambs, chicks, and piglets peer out from under flaps concealed within Magsamen's cozy landscapes. Chicks cheep from inside an egg basket and little lambs can be glimpsed among the veggies in their garden lift-the-flap hiding places.

And for the surprise finale, the barn door flap shows the whole baby bunch. But the little reader is not forgotten in the fray.


With a padded touch-and-feel cover and Magsamen's signature appliqued illustrations and cheery checks, the book is just right for the eyes and fingers of little lapsitters.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bootime: Just Say Boo! by Susan Hood





We've all seen those eager young would-be trick-or-treaters who find the actual event no fun! That carefully selected and oh-so-cute costume is fine until--YIKES! They look in the mirror and scare themselves! And werewolves, Grim Reapers, Draculas, and green-faced witches on their own doorstep make them do a bit of howling and shrieking themselves!

And outside--ghosts in the trees twist and swoop, bony hands pop right out of the treat bowls, and moans and groans sound out from porches along the way. And the sidewalks are crowded with strange figures! No one looks familiar! What does a little first-time spook do to get on top of this strange event?

Say Boo to you! is the answer Susan Hood's rhyming story, Just Say Boo! (Harper, 2012) suggests. Hood opens with a succession of questions about boo-time--those scary decorations, howling dogs, whirling winds and autumn leaves swirling around--with a promise that a strong BOO! will scare them right back. If a girl in a grinning skeleton mask comes to her door with a bowl of yummy goodies, what do you say? Well, how about"Trick or Treat?" and "Thank You!" 

And when your pumpkin is full and you head back home, safe and sound, it'll be your turn to answer that doorbell and do a little scaring yourself, and you know what to SAY!  BOO!

Susan Hood's predictable rhyming questions help soothe hesitant celebrants and get them into the spirit of the scary season, and in a bit of well-placed boo-time bibliotherapy, back home the reluctant little trick-or-treater gets to teach the family's toddler how to turn the tables on those scary apparitions at the door, too.



With appealing art in an autumnal palette, Jed Henry's not-too-scary illustrations reinforce the "it's all for fun" mood of this easy-going little Halloween treat that is good prep for the big night.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

New Girl Back In Town: Cinderella Smith: The More The Merrier by Stephanie Barden

My best friend, Erin, was already in line behind the Rosemarys, so I went to stand by her.

I had to walk to school today with Cinderella," Rosemary T. said to Rosemary W. The way she said it made it sound terrible.

I'm right behind you, Rosemary T.," I said.

She turned around. "I can't believe you were skipping and singing ad holding hands on the way to school! I would never want to look as babyish as you" she said.

"I was so embarrassed," Rosemary T. told Rosemary W. "I walked way back with her mom and pretended I didn't know her."

Third grade had been going great for Cinderella Smith. Her witty and easy-going teacher, Mr. Harrison, likes the way she creates new words like vexylent and awshucksible, and she has always felt that she is friends with everyone in her class. But now her old friend Rosemary T. and her sidekick Rosemary W. seem to have decided that they are too mature to associate with her, banning her from their I Believe in Unicorns Club, and suddenly Cinderella finds herself at odds with the Rosemarys' new clique.

But when Mr. Harrison announces that the best three spellers in his class will compete in the school spelling bee, Cinderella resolves to be one of the winners and show Rosemary that she is mature. As a bonus, Mr. Harrison says that the one who does the best in the bee will get to choose the theme of the fall class party. Rosemary T. doesn't miss the chance for another putdown.

Rosemary T. kept up that mean stare. "Also,when I win the spelling bee and I plan my I Believe in Unicorns party, you can just sit in the hall."

Suddenly the battle lines are drawn. The usually cheery Cinderella, who has always considered herself an average speller, is suddenly determined that she is NOT going to let Rosemary T. win the bee and take over the party planning for the rest of the class. Cinderella and Erin agree to spend every minute they can prepping for the big spelling bee, beginning with a marathon study session over the weekend.

Will the class party be vexylant fun for everyone or another regrettable awshucksible occasion with the Rosemarys in charge?

Stephanie Barden's latest installment in this beginning chapter series, Cinderella Smith: The More the Merrier (Harper, 2012) shows that there's definitely a new girl in town. Abetted by Caldecott artist Diane Goode's lively and appealing illustrations,  Barden's writing is honest but upbeat, with a sure feel for the elementary social scene, including mean girls, Grade 3 version, as Cinderella and friends team up to make the party turn out great for everyone. Move over, Junie B., Judy Moody, Clementine, and Ramona, and make room for the new kid.  After all, as Cinderella says, "The more the merrier."

Barden's initial book in this series is Cinderella Smith.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

From the Crypt! Secrets of Shakespeare's Grave by Deron K. Hicks

Julian made the final turn first and burst through the opening. As Colophon put her foot on the final step, she tripped and fell. The alarm on her watch started beeping.  The ticking had stopped.

As soon as Julian made it through the door and into the mausoleum, he heard the thud behind him and Colophon's cry. He turned back to the door.  It was slowly closing.

Colophon tried to get to her knees, but she felt as if she were moving in slow motion.  Suddenly the light was gone. Colophon was scrambling on her knees in the direction of the door.  Was it already closed?

Suddenly something grabbed her right hand.

Hiding quickly behind a large ornamental vase, twelve-year-old Colophon Letterford eavesdrops on conference of the assembled Letterford clan, only to learn that cousin Treemont Letterford plans a takeover of Letterford and Sons, the centuries-old prestigious publishing house. A series of unexplained and quite unfortunate events has threatened a financial collapse of the old firm, and under the rules established by founder Miles Letterford in 1616, the ownership of the firm and all properties are to devolve upon the next oldest male Letterford by midnight on Christmas eve if Letterford and Sons is not solvent on that date. Colophon's father, Mull Letterford has but a month, but he points out that he has meetings with three best-selling authors to publish their latest manuscripts, any one of which would restore the firm to profitability.
But the appearance of Colophon's oddball second cousin Julian at the family Thanksgiving suggests another way of saving her home and her father's firm. Julian is skinny, disheveled, and apparently obsessed with the elusive mystery of the family treasure secreted by Miles Letterford, and his impromptu visit to the family's estate in Georgia is focused on finding clues in the portrait of founder Miles in Mull's study.

Partially convincing the dubious Julian of her puzzle-solving abilities, Colophon insists upon joining him in his scrutiny of the portrait, and it is her ability to think outside the painting itself that points to the letters hidden in the ornate carving on the frame, letters that indeed promise to lead to the centuries-old treasure of the Letterfords:

Good friend among the stars be found
A treasure--heare the key thus bound.
Blessed be the man who lays the claime
To that enthroned within this frame.

And soon Julian and Colophon are off on a quest which takes them from secret clue to secret clue--at the tomb of Shakespeare in a church in Stratford-on-Avon, into the depths of a crypt with an ancient clockwork-driven door that almost closes on them, and to the posh offices of a private bank in London with a golden key which can open Miles Letterford's security box deposited there over three hundred years earlier, But to the cousins'  disappointment, the box is not filled with gold or jewels, holding only an old inkwell and one very old leather portfolio.

Meanwhile, Mull Letterford, accompanied by Case, Colophon's older brother, finds another series of  comic but unfortunate events that derail his meetings with the three authors with which he had  hoped to revive his business. It looks like Christmas Eve will bring no joy to Colophon's family--unless... unless that venerable portfolio might just contain a secret from Shakespeare's grave that will save the family's fortune and preserve Letterford and Sons' prestige well into the future.

Deron R. Hicks' just-published Secrets of Shakespeare's Grave (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) is a ripsnorting, stylish mystery with an appealing but unlikely pair of puzzle-solving detectives, one which concludes with an unforeseen denouement which surprisingly doesn't include the hoped-for gold, but a treasure that is even better, and ends with the promise of yet another mystery.


There is no time for talk....

We were wrong.

The manuscripts were simply another
clue.  I will write further.

This is a classy mystery novel, each chapter beginning with a quote from the Bard and intriguing little illustrations which suggest the clues to follow, with memorable characters and suitably mysterious settings ranging from Mont St. Michel in 1616 to Manchester, Georgia, with stops along the way in London, Stratford-on-Avon, and New York City. Fans of The Thirty-Nine Clues series and The Enola Holmes Mysteries who enjoy cryptic literary mysteries and harrowing clues in the crypt will find Colophon Letterford a most engaging girl sleuth and look forward the next sequel, promised for 2013.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Friendship, Blendship: Amelia Bedelia Makes A Friend by Herman Parish





Having a best friend in first grade is great. Having her next door is even better. They like to dress-up together and jump rope together. Jen even goes along with Amelia Bedelia's novel form of bowling, rolling a ball at a large mixing bowl from the kitchen.

But then Amelia Bedelia's good luck seems to come to an end. Jen's family has to move away.

Sadly, she watches her best friend's furniture go into a van and waves morosely as Jen's family drives away to their new home. With a heavy heart, but not without her usual curiosity, Amelia watches as the new neighbor's moving van arrives.

It doesn't look promising over there. The new neighbor is an older lady with no kids at all. Even the hoped-for "pool" table (equipped for swimming) doesn't materialize. Still, little Amelia Bedelia goes along with her mother the next day to welcome the newcomer.




Mrs. Adams is apparently a warm and wise woman who knows how to deal with her quirky little new neighbor. Not only does she have two grandchildren coming to visit, but she and Amelia Bedelia turn out to like to do a lot of the same things, including converting an outdoor table into a small "pool" table.



Little Amelia is as full of comic malapropisms as ever in Herman Parish's I-Can-Read level 1 early reader, Amelia Bedelia Makes a Friend (I Can Read Book 1) (Harper, 2012), a story of friendship lost and found, in this latest in his young Amelia Bedelia series.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Living in Two Worlds: What Came From the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt

It was Tommy Pepper's twelfth birthday, and for it he had unwrapped the dumbest birthday present in the history of the entire universe: an Ace Robotroid Adventure lunch box.

"Your grandmother probably waited in a very long line to get one of these," his father said. "And she sent it all the way from San Francisco. And it was expensive."

"All right," Tommy sighed. "I love it. I'm going to show it to all my friends. Pretty soon there's going to be all those grandmothers lined up to buy Ace Robotroid Adventure lunch boxes. They'll be beating each other with canes to get the last one."

But when Tommy Pepper reluctantly hauls out the unwanted lunch box in the cafeteria at William Bradford Elementary School, he finds something strange but wonderful.

There, among the spilled carrot and celery sticks, something... well, something glowed.

A chain, green and silver. Heavy.

Tommy dropped the chain over his head and tucked it beneath his shirt. It felt warm.

And with that simple action Tommy Pepper unknowingly accepts an awesome charge as the keeper of the Art of the Valorim, a defeated but mysteriously magical and wise people on another planet, one with two suns, in a "galaxy far, far away," as we say. And this responsibility to preserve the wisdom and art of these Valorim will bring Tommy into a battle which he cannot yet conceive.

Gary Schmidt, Caldecott-winning author, is known for his insightful realistic fiction, but in his latest, What Came from the Stars (Clarion, 2012), he undertakes a tour de force writing scheme in which alternating chapters depict both the story of how the last remaining Valorim sent the combined knowledge and art of his people across the universe to preserve it from the dark lord Mondus and his O'Mondim hordes, and the struggle of Tommy and his father to save their generations-old house, the one his dead mother loved above all else, from being taken as part of Lumpkin Associates' ocean-view condominium development.

The relentless convergence of the two worlds begins. Tommy suddenly recalls strange words he knows but has never heard and shows skills he had never possessed before. And when he constructs a sand sculpture of a creature, one he somehow knows is called an O'Mondim, and leaves it for the tide to take back into the ocean, days-long storms batter the town of Plymouth, blow out windows and doors, strewing the floor of the school with sand, and fill the town with the smell of decaying seaweed, a foreboding smell that Tommy knows is feh.

Soon Tommy's teacher disappears, and the charming but magical substitute Mr. Pilgrimway appears to take over, and gradually Tommy realizes that their strange substitute is his O'Mondim, and that somehow another world is impinging upon his own, that an evil force in the form of Mr. Pilgrimway wants to take the chain and its powers from him, and for reasons he can't quite comprehend, he knows that he must resist. As a rebellion led by the last living Valorim begins on that distant planet, the conflict in Tommy's world intensifies. Young Ealgar is sent from Valorim to retrieve the talisman that will restore their lost Art and to join Tommy in overcoming the O'Mondim in his own world.

Although Schmidt's protagonist is an apparently average sixth grader, grasping the full meaning of his adventures would seem to require a more mature reader. The alternating chapters from the Valorim chronicles read as if they were part of an Anglo-Saxon saga, a genre with which most sixth graders are unlikely to be familiar. There are hints of twentieth-century English and American fantasy classics--of Tolkien, Rowling, Lewis, Cooper, L'Engle--as well, knowledge of which is not required but which will add much to the reading of this one. But even read as a simple space alien invasion adventure, the building tension and the increasing convergence of the two parallel stories will keep readers going to the satisfying conclusion in which Tommy Pepper's two worlds inevitably collide.

It's a bit of a trick, juggling two such wildly different parallel narratives while bringing them toward their certain convergence and resolution, but Gary Schmidt's notable storytelling skills suffice to carry readers into a climax they will relish. "Schmidt brings high heroic fantasy and contemporary realism together in this novel." says Horn Book's starred review.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Sometimes I Wonder...: You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey

Every tiny atom in your body
came from a star that exploded
long before you were born.

Salt still flows
through your veins, your sweat, and your tears.

The sea within you is as salty as the ocean.
The biblical book of Genesis, the poet Omar Khayam, and cosmologist Carl Sagan agree: we are such stuff as stars are made of: the very atoms that make up our bodies are those of the stars, and the sea within us is identical to the seas that support life on our world, giving moisture to the clouds in a constant water cycle that has supported life on earth since it began. Part of nature, we share many commonalities with our world.

Inside your brain, electricity
stronger than lightning
powers your every thought.
Like the earth, we constantly recycle our elements. Children grow at night and grow their fastest during the growing season just as the plants do. We shed hair in the autumn just as the trees drop leaves, growing new short hair to provide a dense undercoat for winter as wild mammals do. Just like all the earth our bodies change and recycle themselves, replacing our skin over 100 times in childhood.

... you grow entirely new skeletons throughout your life.

And, as American poet Walt Whitman long ago said, "I contain multitudes."

From your head to your toes,
inside and out, billions of teeny
microorganisms live on planet YOU.
And like other living things, we can grow relationships, friends and family, with other people and with the animals around us to sustain ourselves.

Bats and whales get their friends to babysit.
Elin Kelsey’s You Are Stardust (Owl Kids Press, 2012) uses plain but evocative language to make its point, that we are all part of everything around us. There is a lot to wonder about for a child, and Kelsey’s simple but striking narrative is both poetry and science lesson, answering questions and raising many more for young reader to wonder about --the stuff of science and philosophy that all humans ponder, the mystery of it all. This little book can be the first to open up such wide thoughts.

Kirkus Reviews raves, "This is a work that demands to be read and reread, studied and examined, and thoroughly digested. It is perfect for sparking adult and child conversations about our place in the universe. A remarkable achievement.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Style-setting: The Hueys: The New Sweater by Oliver Jeffers

“The thing about the Hueys... was that they were all the same.”

In fact, the Hueys are minimalists. Egg-shaped oval bodies with stick legs and arms sprouting therefrom, the best that can be said about them is that there is no need for beauty queen competitions among them. Sartorially, there's no difference either. Basically, they are, er, naked ovals. And they like it that way.

But there's always one in every crowd, and Rupert decides that he's going to be different. He knits himself a bright orange sweater and suddenly--he's different, VERY DIFFERENT!

At first everyone is shocked, SHOCKED! He looks weird. He doesn't belong. He stands out in a crowd. Horrors!

Doesn't he know that the THING about the Hueys was that they were all the same?"

But then, Gillespie gets the urge to be different and knits himself an identical orange sweater. Hmmm. These two do have a certain something, a certain savoir faire. Maybe there's something to this being different thing.

Suddenly, all the Hueys have orange sweaters! Everyone struts about, proud that they, too, are different. Trouble is, they are all different in the same way!

Rupert realizes that he's lost his edge among a sea of orange-sweatered Hueys. What does a guy
have to do to be different among a crowd of copycats?

Then Rupert decided he liked the idea of wearing a hat.

And that changed everything...

Kids will jump in to speculate what happens next  with the copy-cat Hueys, with one surprise still in store! In a minimalist parable of human style-setting, Oliver Jeffers explores the foibles of following fashion, as his little eggheads, like 'tweeners, all dress alike to be different, in his The Hueys:The New Sweater (Philomel, 2012). Jeffers, whose spare penciled drawings added panache to his recent hit, Stuck, (see my review here)  makes use of smart, savvy text and even more minimal line drawings in this wry, sophisticated little tale.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Who? Are You A Cow? by Sandra Boynton

HEY! I'm a chicken.
Yes, it's true!

Tell me, Tell me.
What are you!

A brand-new Sandra Boynton board book for babies is cause for bravos--or in Boynton's case, MOOING, OINKING, BARKING, BAAING....

A cross-eyed, upside-down chicken is the interlocutor in this call-and-response narration which pulls the listening tot right into the story with its first bouncy quatrain. The inquiries come fast: Cow? Dog? Lamb? Hippo? Hold on! You can't be a hippo; they're really large--and YOU are not! Well, then what are you?

You must be YOU!

Boynton's barnyard and zoo critters are as charmingly comic as ever, clearly what they are, and more, in this lively exploration of who is who in this rhyming romp through self-identity in her latest, Are You a Cow? (Little Simon, 2012). Kirkus Reviews gives Boynton's newest a coveted starred review and high praise: "Boynton has perfected the art of creating developmentally appropriate books for babies that keep their parents engaged too, and this is no exception. Tots will be thrilled at the chance to use one of their favorite two-letter words ("no!") over and over again."

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Key to the Past: The Whites of Their Eyes (Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School) by Andrew Clements

Robert held up his index finger. "Important tactical rule: always plan for mistakes and malfunctions--it's called redundancy."

He took another bite of cheeseburger and kept talking. "When you consider a weapon design, you also have to consider your enemy. In this case, we've got Lyman the Spyman--except he can't just hang around the school spying all day. To maintain his cover, he has to actually be the janitor. So, that's his weakness--as you already know. And really, in today's action, I was sort of copying what Ben did."

Ben nodded wisely. It was nice to have his work praised by an expert

"Okay, okay," Jill said. "Let's hear about this fake puke of yours."

A pair of elderly women in the next booth swiveled their heads and stared at Jill disapprovingly.

In the third book in the popular Keepers of the School series, The Whites of Their Eyes (Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School) (Atheneum Books, 2012), with time running out, Benjamin Pratt and his friend Jill decide to risk taking on a third co-conspirator, the "brain" Robert Gerritt, to help them defeat the corporation and its undercover agent, Lyman, masquerading as the new school janitor, who plan to tear down the historic Duncan Oakes School and build a mega-theme park, Tall Ships Ahoy, on the site. Ben had uncovered a secret society of generations of students, called The Keepers of the School, sworn to protect and perpetuate the school. Now, with only three weeks before the wrecking ball destroys the historic building, the two Keepers decide to swear in Robert to help them outwit the former secret agent Lyman, now employed by the Tall Ships Ahoy Corporation to foil their efforts.

In the introductory volume of the series (see my review here) Ben and Jill have followed Duncan Oakes' cryptic messages and uncovered a codicil in his will which could possibly defeat the demolition plan, but they need more facts to use as firepower, and the search for more concealed clues is foiled by "Lyman the Spyman" who seems to always be one step ahead of them. With Robert's help, the three manage to defeat Lyman's hidden sensors and enter the school for a midnight search which uncovers a banister which, when turned, reveals a secret panel which opens into a concealed room which was evidently used as a station on the Underground Railroad.

The three Keepers hope this this historic find will help win over public opinion to preserve the Oakes School, but when the kids emerge from their hidden room, they find themselves facing a fierce guard dog which Lyman has set loose in the schools halls, and again they must outwit Lyman to make their escape with proof of their new find.

Andrew Clements' third book in the series does not disappoint middle readers in its combination of suspense, danger, and a tantalizing historical mystery with local political ramifications. Clements, a master of elementary fiction, is a fine storyteller who offers a fast-paced page turner with deeper ethical ramifications. Fans of the first book and its sequel, Fear Itself, will want to get their hands on this latest installment in the series.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Boo! It's Pumpkin Day, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff


What is jollier than a big, orange, grinning jack-o'-lantern pumpkins? How about seven pumpkinheads, each with a different face?

Mouse loves to do art projects, and with newspapers spread all around to collect the spills, he tries out a happy-face pumpkin head with a wide grin.

Mouse likes that one. But he's got a yen for experimentation.

How's about a sad face on the next pumpkin? Yeah!

The next tall, narrow pumpkin is just right for a surprised look! Mouse is pleased with his plan.

But when Mouse turns to do the rest of his seven, one is missing? Where can it be?

Could Dog have swiped Mouse's next pumpkin?



Dog's creation is a rather scary pumpkin, and it gives Mouse a bit of a fright, but with two big orange globes still waiting to be decorated, it looks like Dog and Mouse need to, er, cut a deal on the final two jack-o'-lanterns.

In their latest, It's Pumpkin Day, Mouse! (If You Give...) (Balzer & Bray, 2012), author Laura Numeroff and artist Felicia Bond once more combine their talents in this jolly new board book for the youngest among us, just in time for the upcoming scary season. As in their earlier board books for tots, such as Happy Birthday, Mouse! (If You Give...), we have Numeroff's jaunty text and Bond's infectiously enthusiastic Mouse in a pumpkin patch episode to please the preschool crowd.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Moonwalk: Mouse and the Moon by M. Christine Butler

Little Harvest Mouse sleeps serenely in his nest beneath a grain field, secure under the deep blue sky and the watchful eye of his very own moon.

... but one evening a cold wind rustled through the fields and Little Harvest Mouse couldn't see his friend anymore.

"Someone's stealing the moon!" he shouted.
The other animals heed his alarm. "The moon is not in the pond where she always is!" quacked Duck. Mouse goes to look in the pond, and it's true! He sees no moon in the pond, only dark water.
Squirrel confirms the observation, but argues that the moon doesn't live in water; she lives up high in the branches of his tree. But when he looks up into the fir tree, and the moon is not there where he always sees it, he fears that the cold wind has blown it way. Rabbit claims that she was last with him on the mountain, but before they can finish blaming each other for losing the moon, a sudden thunderstorm strikes, flashing dangerously where the gentle moon should be.

"What will we do without her?" squeaked Mouse.

"Follow me!" shouted Rabbit.
Rabbit leads them all to a cozy cave, where they curl up together to ride out the storm, warm and dry, their disagreements forgotten.

But the summer storm soon passes, and when the four crawl out of their haven, the rain has stopped. And what do they see?

It was the moon. It glowed bright over the mountains,
Glittered through the trees, and shone in the pond.

"She never really left us," said Squirrel.
The four look around at their new-found friends and their old friend Moon right where she belongs

"Good friends never do."
Christine Butler's Mouse and the Moon
(Good Books, 2012) spins a simple fable of friendship found, with the moon in its heaven and all right with the world. Artist Tina McNaughton provides beautiful, full-bleed illustrations, with a glittering, silvery moon which benevolently bathes her woodland scenes with glowing light, and the overall effect is a dreamlike delight, tinged with gentle humor in the differing perspectives of the animals who find that they are indeed all friends under the same moon, however they see her. Fine bedtime fare, with a touch of lyricism that lingers like moonshine on the lake and through the trees.


Passing on Pink: Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer




It had to happen. Sooner or later somebody HAD to opt out of the pink princessy fairy fad, and who better suited for that contrarian role that our favorite primary grade persnickety pig, Olivia! It's a hard row to hoe to swim upstream (to mix metaphors), but Olivia is determined to free herself of the prevailing fairy fashions:


No more pink-tutu-ed fairy prima ballerinas for Olivia. She dresses as a blue warthog, as a Soho sophisticate in a black, stretchy uni-dress, and takes Martha Grahame as her model.


But finding a suitable substitute image is not easy for Olivia. Her aspirations tend toward the grandiose, and seeing herself in even a heroically visualized vocation--nurse, orphan advocate, star reporter--doesn't quite do it for our precocious pig girl!

In Ian Falconer's latest (and most fashion-forward) picture book, Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Atheneum, 2012) Olivia settles, pro tempore, for being a queen, not exactly shaking the whole royalty image, but at least avoiding the sparkly-wand-and-crown thing and the persistently ubiquitous pinkanista fetish while retaining her regal aspirations, albeit at a senior level. Her compromise may be a bit ironic, but totally consistent with Olivia's drama-queen personality. Still, some readers (and parents) will hail Olivia in her new role at the forefront of the anti-pink rebellion.

As Kirkus Review piquantly puts it, "... panache aplenty!"


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Did You Ever Have to Really Decide? The Moon Over High Street by Natalie Babbitt

This is Joe Casimir's story. But if you're going to understand what happened when he got on a bus and came down southwest across the state to visit a town called Midville, you have to know about Mr. Boulderwall.

Twelve-year-old Joe is technically an orphan, but he's always lived with Gran, ever since his parents died right after he was born, so she's always been his family.

But when Gran's broken hip takes her out of commission during rehab, Joe learns that he has other family, a second-cousin, "Aunt" Myra whom he dimly remembers visiting once as a small child and Gran sends him off to spend the summer in Midville with Myra until she's well enough to make the six-hour drive to pick him up.

Joe find life in Midville unexpectedly soothing. Aunt Myra, on summer vacation from her teaching job, turns out to be easy-going and loving, a kindred spirit, and Joe is befriended by Beatrice, a neighbor girl his age who introduces him to the slow and easy life in the 1960s small town.

But when Beatrice takes him on a bike tour of town, one of the places she takes him is High Street, a place that makes an unexpected impression upon Joe:

Midville's best street was High Street. It was up on a hill. Not much of a hill, to tell the truth, but in that part of the state, hills are not to be taken for granted. Everything on High Street was big, especially the trees.
And the biggest, grandest house on High Street is Anson Boulderwall's. Anson is the inventor and owner of the Swervit Corporation, which makes an indispensable automobile part that has made its maker a very rich man. And when Beatrice's large, enthusiastic dog Rover dashes into Mr. Boulderwall's yard, the two embarrassed kids go after him, only to find him happily sharing a cinnamon roll beside the pool with none other than Mr. Anson Boulderwall, who receives the kids jovially and seems suddenly and strangely interested in Joe Casimir.

Not long afterward, Mr. Boulderwall makes Joe an offer that is hard to refuse. Anson Boulderwall has no heir to take over his company, and his offer is to adopt Joe, send him to the best prep schools and colleges and in time install him as the next president of Swervit. Joe, Aunt Myra, and Gran are at first unbelieving and then incredulous at this strange proposition. Neither Gran nor Aunt Myra want to lose Joe to the Boulderwall family, but they realize that he is offering their boy a fine education, success, and wealth beyond their dreams. At last it comes down to Joe to decide. Should he give up his unformed but real dreams of becoming an astronomer, with all the uncertainties in achieving that hope, for a life of certain riches and power?

Natalie Babbitt, whose award-winning and notable books written over decades include the still best-selling Tuck Everlasting, has in her latest, The Moon Over High Street, (Scholastic Press, 2012), a gentle and telling tale of personal choice and responsibility. Babbitt's lauded storytelling skills are in full evidence here, with well-developed, diverse, and engaging characters that make the story's premise of the importance of choosing your own way believable within a soft, almost dreamlike setting in which Joe's love of the moon becomes the central symbol. "A congenial, cheerful tale with an important message. Babbitt may reach a new generation of readers with this satisfying work," reports Kirkus Reviews.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Gotta Dance! Ballerina Rosie by Sarah Ferguson



But clothes don't make the man, and the tutu doesn't make the dancer. Rosie may point her toes perfectly when she slides down a banister, and score when she slides her tutu over her school's team shorts, but when she finally begins the long-awaited ballet lessons, Rosie finds that her athletic skills don't quite transfer to match the profile of a prima ballerina:



But after a short depressive slump, with her mom's support and Madame Natalie's tutelage, Rosie perfects her plie and pirouette with plenty of practice. And the red ballet slippers Mdme. Natalie presents her with seem to give her the psychological boost she needs to polish that awesome arabesque, and at last Rosie earns what she has long hoped to hear:


If Sarah Ferguson intended to invoke the ghost of Hans Christian Andersen's ever-dancing "Red Shoes," it is clearly a case of misfit imagery in her latest, Ballerina Rosie (Simon & Schuster, 2012). While Caldecott-award winner Diane Goode's illustrations of the would-be prima ballerina are vivacious and charming (if a bit inaccurate for the novice dancer), Ferguson's too wordy storytelling makes this predictable pinkanista tale drag a bit, despite its worthy if well-worn premise that practice makes perfect. Still, young ballet fans who have blown through Marilyn Singer's better-written Tallulah's Tutu and sequel or Grace Maccarone's endearing Miss Lina's Ballerinas and its sequel (see my reviews here and here) (not to mention the venerable Angelina Ballerina 25th Anniversary Edition and Ballet Kitty: Ballet Class,) and still want more will likely go for Duchess Sarah's little tribute to balletomania.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sneaking Out: The Big Adventures of the Smalls by Helen Stephens

It was an especially special night. It was the night the Smalls hold a grand ball. Everyone was very busy getting ready.

But the only thing Paul and Sally Small were getting ready for... was bed.

Their splendid rococo mansion is spotless, their long banquet dining table is splendid with the finest china and sterling silver, and their parents are resplendent in tuxedo and ballgown, their servants nervously prepping the fancy food on shiny serving salvers for a polished presentation.

Banished to their nursery far upstairs, Paul and Sally are not sleepy. They just have to have a glimpse og these grand festivities. With Sally leading the way and Paul clutching his favorite teddy, Mr. Puddles, they tiptoe partway down the grand staircase for a peek. But as Paul hangs over the banister for a look at the glittering guests, Mr. Puddles slips from his grasp! Paul and Sally watch in horror as he lands on a huge serving plate upon which a waiter soon slaps a domed cover without seeing the hidden surprise underneath.

The kids have to retrieve Teddy right away, before he gets served up to the diners, or they are in BIG trouble.

So begins The Big Adventure of the Smalls (Aladdin, 2012) by Helen Stephens. Kids will cackle with glee as, with their tagalong pooch along for the fun, the Smalls hoodwink their parents and guests, concealing themselves beneath the banquet table, among the legs of the guests, until they get a chance to snatch Teddy from the server, swinging over the feast on a handy and helpfully ornate chandelier. Making use of drapes, convenient suits of armor, sliding panels, trapdoors to secret passageways, and a co-conspirator of a cook, they manage to avoid detection, or at least identification by their parents, and final]y return themselves and Mr. Puddles to their home base, just in time for the expected bed check.

"Phew!" said Sally. "We got him back...and nobody even saw!"

It's a classic chase tale, every kid's fantasy of spying on the grownups' shindig incognito. Stephens' ornate and stylish illustrative style evokes that of several classic illustrators--Bemelmans, Waber, Ardizone, for example--and extend this stylish text perfectly. Says Publishers Weekly, "Stephens's story casts that rare spell—the feeling of finding a lost childhood favorite."

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Last Shall Be First: The Jungle Run by Tony Mitton



But this is an obstacle race, requiring agility and speed, and you'd think large, lumbering animals like Elephant, Hippo, and Rhino would show a little less hubris when dealing with the petite but eager Cub. Undeterred by their put-downs, Cub lines up with the others.

You just know that this underdog, er, undercub, is going to show up all the big boys. She's not above a little sports psychology, either, as she plaintively cries


But when it comes to nimbleness, little Cub has it all over the big guys. The others get tangled and twisted in the net, but Cub waltzes through and takes the lead. At the rope swing over the stream, she's a natural born swinger, as Elephant manages to break the rope and winds up taking an unforeseen dip in the water below.

Cub is so far in the lead that after a teasing wave to the also rans, she doubles back to the waterslide to take a trip down the rapids on Elephant's shoulders. He, however, steers out of control and takes a tumble, while Cub winds up safe and dry, on the other side, just in time to speed over the finish line first! Yahoo! She who laughs last laughs best, as Cub greets the rest of the disheveled racers gleefully:


But in this jolly jog, there is jungle juice and cake at the end, and all is forgiven as the contestants mingle in a happy mob at the finish line festivities, in Tony Mitton's The Jungle Run (Orchard Books, 2012). Everyone loves an underdog, and in this cheery takeoff on the old Hare and Tortoise tale, thanks to Guy Parker-Rees' merry and bright illustrations, everyone is a winner. Little ones who sometimes hate being the smallest in every game will especially enjoy Cub's triumph.


Friday, September 14, 2012

The Love Bug Rides Again! Pugs in a Bug by Carolyn Crimi




It's a canine cavalcade as panting pooches, packed into a bright green VW Bug, careen through the countryside, picking up their passengers until they reach the Beetle's capacity, to a Beep Beep! Bow Wow! beat, in Carolyn Crimi's latest pug-bug fest, Pugs in a Bug (Dial Books, 2012).

As in that ultimate critters in a car tale, Sheep in a Jeep, getting there is more than half the fun. As the Bug picks Passing up pugs on the way to the Pooch Parade, there are spaniels in a school bus and bulldogs driving cabs until they all reach their destination and the Parade passes by to shouts of (you guessed it!) GO, DOGS, GO! There are rounds of rhymes for kids to repeat as the pug count mounts and the Bug becomes packed, with Stephanie Buscema's bright pastel illustrations keeping the event bouncing along to its canine conclusion,  With a closing Beep! Beep!  the pooped pugs bow-wow out for the day.


You can catch Carolyn Crimi in some of her other comic tales--Where's My Mummy? and Rock 'N' Roll Mole (read my recent review here.)

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Mine! Llama Llama Time to Share by Anna Dewdney



Author Anna Dewdney gets off a piquant pun to begin her newest llama drama, Llama Llama Time to Share (Viking, 2012). Mama Llama has a visitor, their new neighbors, little Nelly Gnu, Mrs. Gnu, and her baby brother.

Mama Llama is happy that her little Llama Llama has a neighbor playmate just his age, but she knows that cooperative play doesn't come easily to youngsters. As she shoos the two toddlers off to play in little Llama's room with his toys, she has some well-timed advice.


Mama and Mrs. Gnu settle down for a cup of tea and a nice visit, while Llama Llama, with a worried look, escorts new Nelly to his toy box. After turning down several toys, Nelly chooses to build with Little Llama's giant blocks. Whew! There are lots of them, and Llama doesn't feel too attached to any one of them, and the two are soon cooperating nicely as they decide to build a castle together.


But then things take a tragic turn in the playroom. Nelly grabs Llama's beloved lovey, Fuzzy Llama, and seems to be making him her own part of the game. Llama is stricken. Fuzzy is his alone! He grabs. He pulls desperately. Nelly Gnu digs in and pulls right back. RIPPPPP!

The two stare in horror as they see one of Fuzzy Llama's arms in Little Llama's hands.

But it's least said, soonest mended, as Mama Llama steps in, quickly sews back Fuzzy's arm, and put him off limits until the two youngsters apologize and agree on how to share when they play.

Anna Dewdney's one-of-a-kind illustrations, deftly mated to her comfortable rhyme and rhythm scheme tell the all-too-familiar story well. Sharing things is hard to do, especially when the thing shared is a dearest possession, but Llama Llama and Nelly Gnu seem to have begun the transition in Dewdney's latest in her outstanding series. Llama Llama Time to Share is a welcome brand-new llama drama not to be missed.

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