Sunday, March 31, 2013

Don't Call Me SPIKE! A Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester

Baby Porcupine needs a name. But Mr. and Mrs. Porcupine are stumped.



It seems that in Porcupine country, most of the likely names for a little porcupine have already been taken. Lance and Quillian are classy, but, alas, cliched. Even the offbeat names like Pokey and Prickles have been pre-empted.

Are you kidding?

 Finally they come to an agreement.


It's an original, if improbable name for a little porcupine, all right. But as he grows up and his quills lose any soft, fluffy qualities they might have had, Fluffy begins to wonder whether his name is all that fitting.

And when he backs into a door and finds himself stuck fast to it, Fluffy has serious doubts.

Growing up porcupine is not without its hazards. Fluffy perforates his mattress when he tries to sleep on his back. A warm bubble bath makes his quills soggy but not soft. And when he holds an umbrella over his head, he pokes so many holes in it that he might as well try to stay dry under a colander. He tries whipped cream, shaving cream, feathers, and marshmallows, but he never achieves the intended fluffitude.


And then one day Fluffy meets up with a very large white rhinoceros who threatens to get rough and belligerently asks his name.  Fluffy fearfully answers, "Fluffy."


The more the rhino giggles, the more amused he gets.  Soon he's rolling on the grass and howling with laughter at the preposterous idea of a porcupine named Fluffy.

Fluffy is uncomfortable, and hoping to change the subject, inquires about the rhino's own name.

Even more giggles and gales of laughter follow. Fluffy shyly tries some guesses--Hubert? Herman? Harold?
"... HIPPO!"
Helen Lester's and Lynn Munsinger's beloved porcupine tale, A Porcupine Named Fluffy (Houghton Mifflin, 2013) is back in a sharp new full-sized paperback edition, a story which humorously makes the point that no matter how silly your name may seem, there's always someone with one that's even funnier, someone who may even turn out to be your new best friend.  Munsinger's wryly  humorous illustrations, familiar from her collaborations with Lester in their best-selling Tacky the Penguin series and the award-winning Hooway for Wodney Wat and Wodney Wat's Wobot make this one a storytime favorite.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Strange Bedfellows? How to Clean A Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships by Steve Jenkins

Why does a plover stroll into a crocodile's mouth?

And why would coyotes and badgers hang out together?

Why does the boxer crab make like a cheerleader, waving anemones in its claws like pom-poms?

Why does a warthog drop and roll over when he meets a mongoose?

All of these strange pairs are engaged in symbiotic partnerships, patterns developed in nature when two very unlike species engage in seemingly uncharacteristic behaviors for mutual benefit.

Crocodiles will munch anything that walks, swims, or flies that they can get their teeth into...except the little plover, called the toothpick bird. Crocodiles lie down and open wide for this daring little bird which walks right into that snaggly smile zone to chow down on tidbits stuck in the croc's teeth. Voila'! Dental hygiene done right!

The little boxer crab picks small anemones and waves them in the face of predators, who love crab nuggets but hate being stung by anemones, and the anemones enjoy the floating fragments of food that the crabs drop.  And warthogs, troubled by ticks, lie down and let a team of mongoose pick off  those pesky parasites, their favorite party tidbits. Oxpicker birds do the same for giraffes and rhinos.

Nature has many odd couples of unlike animals which find each other's company has survival value. Egrets, whose diet is big on grasshoppers, ride around on the backs of antelopes, picking off the bugs that their four-footed transports stir up, meanwhile using their elevated positions to peer around for predators, sounding the alarm when big cats come prowling.

Coyotes and badgers actually play tag team when they're just dying to dine on prairie dog. The badger digs down and stand guard in the backdoor of the burrow while the coyote chases the colony in by the front door, and soon the panicked prairie dogs are easy pickings on both ends.  A small bird called the honeyguide follows a loaded bee to its hive, flies back to summons the honey badger and lead him to the nest, and when the badger uses his strong claws to break open the hive, they both feast together on the sweet treat within.

Steve Jenkins' and Robin Page's just-published  How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) uses Jenkins' illustrative skill to picture these amazing animal partners.  The book's page design utilizes panels to demonstrate how these partnerships work to mutual advantage, ending with that mutually symbiotic relationship most familiar to children, that of human and dog.  An appendix explains the types of symbiosis and  summarizes the basic facts--size, habitat, and diet--of  the fifty-four featured animals, from ants to giraffes, clownfish to wolves.  A mutual partnership themselves, as a couple Jenkins and Page are among the most successful of nature writers for young people, engaging them with enticing mysteries and award-winning artistry, as shown in earlier books such as What Do You Do When Something Wants To Eat You?,  Jenkins' splendidly illustrated The Beetle Book, (see review here), and their My First Day (see my recent review here).

School Library Journal passes out more than a pair of kudos to Jenkins' and Page's latest mutual effort: "This title is another outstanding offering from this extraordinarily talented, wonderfully symbiotic couple."

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Magical Malfunction: Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde

Chapter 3: A Princess Ought To Be Fearless

(That's just crazy: the only people who are fearless are people who have no imagination.)

Princess Imogene Eustacia Wellington is in an un-princessly snit.

Her parents have invited that pesky Prince Malcolm from the kingdom next door to her thirteenth  birthday party. She didn't like him when he was eleven, and he's only going to be just as annoying this time, only bigger!

And the Queen Mother has assigned her to read a boring book, The Art of Being a Princess, fourteen chapters, one smarmy chapter a day, before her birthday, beginning with The Foreword. (Are you kidding? Nobody reads the foreword.)

Princess Imogene has some fun writing snarky comments after each chapter heading, but as for actually reading, she makes it only as far as the opening sentence--One should always strive to be the sort of princess about whom it is said, "She was as good as she was beautiful,"--before ditching the book. She's not feeling particularly beautiful (her hair is impossible), and she's not in the mood to be good, either, as she sneaks out of the castle and goes for a walk. Suddenly, she hears a little voice from somewhere.
"Hey, Princess!"

Princess Imogene realizes that there's a frog on a stereotypical lily pad talking to her. And that frog has a  very strange story--and a vaguely familiar request:

"A witch puts a spell on a prince, turns the prince into a frog.  The only way to break the spell is if a princess  comes along know... 
Don't worry, Princess.  I got my clothes on. They changed right long with me!"

"A Princess Is Always Kind and Helpful--and Fearless," the book had said, so Imogene puckers up and the frog puckers up, insofar as a frog can, and the princess kisses the frog.

The frog turns into a boy--a boy who is NOT and has never been a prince, and that's not the worst of it. It seems the frog omitted one important point in his request: when he turns back into a boy, Imogene becomes a frog in his stead.

And so begins the most interesting fourteen days in Frog Princess Imogene's young life, as she joins the love-snockered farmer's daughter, Luella, hoping to talk her into taking her back to the castle so her parents can deal with the frog problem. But Luella, although kind, has other interests, namely following the "cute" Bertie off with a troupe of actors who promise her a starring role. But Luella soon learns that boys lie and will say anything to get a free washerwoman and cook, and poor Imogene finds herself part of a comedy act--A Boy and His Talking Frog--as they tour from village to village. Being a princess is beginning to look like a better deal all along to the frogged Imogene and it looks like the ditsy and romantically besotted Luella is her only hope to make it back to the castle.

Perhaps the author inherited her comedic writing skills from her mother, who provided her with the perfectly alliterated name, but however she came into them, Vivian Vande Velde is one of the foremost purveyors of the funny and fanciful fractured fairy tale, and her latest does not disappoint.  Our grumpy 'tweener princess Imogene learns a lot about the ways of the medieval world during her coming-of-age days as a captive frog, a time in which she comes to appreciate some of those virtues she formerly spurned.  Even the clueless Luella comes through in the end, returning her to her kingdom and, with a little bit of intellectual assistance from the Queen, comes up with the key to solving her dilemma of  how to become her princessly self without turning another person into a frog in the bargain.

Vande Velde's tongue-in-cheek storytelling, with each chapter an ironic exposition of the chapter headings of The Art of Being A Princess, develops believably within its fairy tale premise, each character fittingly drawn, with the sparklingly humorous dialogue for which the author is well known. Her latest,  Frogged (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), forthcoming April 2, shows Vande Velde at the top of her craft in a funny, freewheeling, fractured fairy tale whose happily-ever-after ending can't help but delight middle readers.

Some of Vivian Vande Velde's other comic walks on the fantastical side include her stuck-inside-the-video game spoofs, User Unfriendly, Deadly Pink, and Heir Apparent, and her body-switching, talking pooch tale, Smart Dog.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

CHEEP Shots: Joking around with Chirp







With a cute yellow chick acting as stand-up comic, Joking Around with Chirp: More Than 130 Feather-Ruffling Jokes, Riddles, and Tongue Twisters! (Owlkids Books, 2013) will have them all howling in the aisles with laughter. This just published comedic compendium includes updated version of oldies but goodies and many new punny riddles which are rib-sticking, rib-tickling fare for early readers as well as for older kids who have come to dote on witty wordplay.



And for readers who are nutty over knock-knocks, there are some nifty numbers:


The editors at Owlkids, publishers of Chirp, ChicaDee, and Owl Magazines, know how to make savvy use of  page design to set off what are described as 130 Feather-Ruffling Jokes, Riddles, and Tongue Twisters, mixing full-color photos of animals with speech balloons with cartoon pages with the comic Chirp delivering the punch lines. A whole menagerie of animals are featured, from cute kittens to perky puppies all in a row cracking jokes, from camels to kangaroos doing comic cameos on their own pages. In an innovative format with eye-catching photos and novel jokes that also fire kid's word skills, Joking Around with Chirp: More Than 130 Feather-Ruffling Jokes, Riddles, and Tongue Twisters! offers a giggle on every page, clever comic quips certified to crack up kids, as these ducks do!

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Fangs A Lot! Nugget & Fang by Tammi Sauer



1. Sharks eat

a. minnows
b. rusty license plates
c, surfers
d. all of the above

Nugget and Fang have always been BFFF--Best Finny Friends Forever!

Down in the briny deep they do everything together.

Fang is big and black and sports a toothy grin. Nugget is a relatively tiny minnow. But their differences have never caused a moment's dissension, until it's time for Nugget to go to school. The two swim down to MINI MINNOWS ACADEMY for Nugget to begin the new school year. Both are taken aback when they see the content of the curriculum.

Mrs. Jelly reads the story of the day:

"Today's story is about three little minnows and a bad, bad shark....!

Math is no better:

"If there were ten minnows and a shark ate four of them,  how many are left?"

And science class brings a another shock. Nugget is frightened to learn that he apparently is a toothsome little McNugget at the bottom of the food chain. And guess who is the toothy predator at the top?

That afternoon, Nugget explains it all to Fang.

"Sharks and minnows can't be friends!"

Is this the end of a beautiful friendship? Not in Tammi Sauer's forthcoming scaly saga, Nugget and Fang: Friends Forever--or Snack Time? (Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). Fang does everything to prove that his toothy grin is harmless, to no avail--until the entire Mini Minnow Academy finds itself swept up in a drag net and only Fang's, er, fangs have the chomp power to save Nugget and his minnow schoolmates from becoming the catch of the day. Sauer's comic touch takes this tale of unlikely friends to the deeps, with illustrator Michael Slack's neon-sign palette making a few artistic waves along the way. All's well that fins well for these briny best buddies, thanks to the talents of Sauer & Slack!

Sauer's recently published comic treats are Princess in Training and Oh, Nuts!(See review here).

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What's Not to Like? Dear Life, You Suck by Michael Blagdon

Dear Life,

See you on the flipside.


With a name like Cricket Cherpin, with a mother who murdered his little brother in the bathtub, and a drug dealer dad,  Cricket has a few strikes against him.  Add to that his frequent suspensions for fighting at school and what could safely be called an irreverent attitude for all institutions, including the Catholic orphanage where he's lived for eight years, and you can see why most of the adults in Cricket's life know that he means trouble.

But they do care about Cricket. At the children's home (hereinafter entitled The Prison), Mother Mary Mammoth keeps trying to convince him of the errors of his ways, and at school the principal (a.k.a. La-Di-Da LaChance) and his English teacher, (alias Foxy Moxie) keep trying to keep him at school long enough to graduate. When Moxie ("sexy in a hippie fruitcake way") assigns the class to write a letter of complaint to anybody, Cricket decides to go big and take it to the top, so he addresses his beef to life itself, hoping that the hint at suicide will send his teacher into hyperdrive mode.  Instead, she red-pencils in some peculiarly pedagogical remarks:
Wonderful choice of recipient!!!  Excellent start, but needs more detail. 
What in particular sucks? 
What do you imagine awaits you on the flipside? 
Regards, M. Lord

Cricket has his work cut out for him with Moxie's request for specificity. By his own code, Cricket is ethically in the clear: he only fights to defend the "little ones" from the orphanage and anyone else who becomes the victim of a bully, particularly senior letterman Buster Pitswaller, whose greens Cricket is finally forced to clean  on school grounds. Suspended for a week from school and grounded to Prison chores, Cricket has to confine his drinking and collecting drug bills for local dope dealer Grub to the wee hours of the night when he can sneak out. His penance labors during the day under the benevolent watch of Caretaker, who also tutors him in self-defense skills, give him plenty of time to think about his future. At first it seems he has only three post-Prison options:

1. Boxer (Caretaker provides training and booking)
2. Drug Dealer (Grub needs a full-time associate)
3. The Flipside (the local cliff is available for jumping)

In Cricket's mind the choices are equally unpleasant, but despite his negative view of himself and everything else, he's got some good luck in his corner--his English teacher Moxie, who thinks he's a gifted writer, Cheesecake LaChance who keeps giving him yet another chance, Mother Mary, who refuses to give up on him despite it all, the "Little Ones" who love his fanciful stories and look to him for protection from the rest of the world, and even the lovely Wynona, Buster's ex-girlfriend who seems to find him handsome and intelligent. Slowly, despite all the junk of his life, Cricket's balance begins to tip toward other options.

In his Dear Life, You Suck (Harcourt, 2013) Scott Blagden has in Cricket Cherpin a character who is profane, cynical, nihilistic, and somehow totally likable, one who has every reason to see the world as a cruel, self-mocking place, no matter where he turns. And yet, Cricket can't seem to come to the point of finding the flipside on the downside of that cliff.
I believe in something. I'm just not sure what. I think the way life started, that Big Bang thing, is a clue. Like maybe God's the explosion, and we're the particles, and the purpose of it all is to get back together.

Like his fictional predecessor, Holden Caulfield, young adult readers will be pulling for Cricket Cherpin to get his own particles together, to emerge from his seventeenth year "with all his f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact."

Kirkus Reviews says, "Dear story, you rock."

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"With a Little Help From My Friends:" The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) by Kathleen Krull


The four young Liverpudlians--John, Paul, George, and Ringo--at loose ends in the late 1950s, didn't know they had a "ticket to ride." But once they found each other, they began to make music like no one had ever heard.

Their talents were different: John was a wordsmith with a predilection for mental hooks--puns, alliteration, and lyrical layerings of meaning. Paul created melodies that stuck in people's minds, powerful musical hooks for hit songs. George was a gifted and driving guitarist: and when they found Richard Starkey, soon to be Ringo Starr, they finally had that backbeat that punched that ticket and set the Beatles on the road to musical history. "Love Me Do" was the band's first recording and people did--they loved the Beatles' sound from the beginning.

Even in their band's name, the group had the originality and wit that marked their work. A play on the name of their favorite 1950s band, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Silver Beetles became the Beatles as they created the Mersey beat, a distinctive English rock and roll sound. The Beatles' first songs were indeed similar to the upbeat, young-love, danceable Buddy Holly playlist, but it wasn't long before the group took rock and roll where it had never been before, incorporating the bluesy, rockabilly, R & B sound of early American rock with more complex themes and harmonies which became the hallmark of the sound of the English invasion, and the music was never the same.

In their new picture biography, authors Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer touch on this innovative quality of the Beatles' music, but as their audience hook, they focus on the Beatles cheerfully irreverent humor--expressed in their interviews, lyrics, and movies. When asked by a reporter what they called their mop-top hair-dos, John Lennon replied that they weren't hairdos; they were hairdon'ts, and this easy-going rebelliousness, rather than offending, endeared them to the public. Weary of silly questions thrown at them, instead of pompous, press release answers they chose to mock the fan magazines' queries:
Q: "How did you find America?"

Ringo: "We went to Greenland and made a left turn."

Q: "How do you find all this business of having screaming girls following you all over the place?"

George: "Well, we feel flattered."

John: "... and flattened."

As Richard Rodger's famous lyric put it, "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" It is difficult to capture the elusive but iconoclastic legacy of the Beatles for today's youngsters in one sitting. Author Krull, a veteran of the bio-picture book, has chosen to single out one quality--their playful humor--around which to organize her narrative of the Beatles' early career. In this task she is ably assisted by the caricatural style of artist Stacey Innerest, who creates comical images of the Beatles in their mop-top, pegged-pants phase, showing their later bell-bottomed, hirsute selves on only one page in which the four file symbolically into the recording studio to begin their musical final phase.

But in their closing, Krull and Brewer do point to the significance of the Beatles as artists:
Nothing was quite the same after Beatlemania.  Other British bands became popular  but the witty wordplay of the Fab Four put them in a class of their own.  They were trendsetters: everyone wanted hairdos like theirs.   But most important, they're considered by many to be the greatest rock-and-roll band of all time.  Constantly adapting their own music in an extraordinary display of styles and subjects, the Beatles changed music forever.

So put on "Yellow Submarine" or "Good Day Sunshine" and give children an idea of the wry wit and  innovative musicality that made the Beatles the dominant musical force in the second half of the twentieth century.  Laugh, sing and dance along with the evergreen music of the Fab Four. and kids will get it. As my six-year-old granddaughter said on first hearing "Here Comes the Sun," "I can't keep my ears off of that song!"  

Lennon would've loved that line.

Krull and  Brewer append a time line and bibliography of books, films, and web sites for older children who want to find out more about the Fab Four.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Telling the Tales of A Wimpy Kid: Jeff Kinney by Christine Webster

Jeff began writing Diary of a Wimpy Kid very quickly. After a while, he realized that much of what he was writing was not very funny. He decided he needed another plan. Before he started writing an actual book, he dedicated his time to coming up with 77 idea pages. From here, he would choose only the very best ideas on these pages.

It took Jeff four years to fill those 77 idea pages. He then cut 80 percent of the material he felt was not worth putting in the book. He was not sure his diary idea would ever have a chance of being published. Jeff pitched his idea to Charlie Kochman, a comic book editor.  Charlie immediately liked it. Here the idea of making Wimpy Kid a series for kids was brought up. Jeff was skeptical, but he agreed to revise Wimpy Kid for younger readers

And so a bunch of bodacious best-sellers was born!

Success didn't come easy to author-illustrator Jeff Kinney. A kid who loved funny books, such as Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, and Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins series, Kinney was drawn right away to cartooning. Early on, even as his college newspaper comic strip Igdoof was a hit at the University of Maryland, Jeff realized that he wasn't much of an artist, not even as a cartoonist. He went to work as a programmer, designing a website, Poptropica, and kept on trying to peddle his comic strip to newspaper syndicates with no success. But while he kept his day job, Kinney also kept on working on various comic ideas, keeping a journal of ideas, and slowly he settled on a comic stick-figure style with episodes based on the life of a clueless seventh grader. Admittedly incorporating many of his own worst qualities as a middle schooler, Kinney kept on drawing and revising his story, shaping his collection of jokes and cartoons into a connected narrative, working late into the night while his family slept.

And then his first book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1, was published  into almost instant best-seller status, with almost as many adults as kids among its fans, making his hapless hero Greg Heffley an instant literary celebrity.  Kinney may not be a stellar cartoon artist, but he has the magically sensitive ability to portray his benighted and self-centered seventh-grade anti-hero sympathetically, in a way that stirs all those embarrassing memories for grown-ups and resonates with the experiences of 'tween readers.  All of Kinney's characters are immediately recognizable to readers, from his pesky little brother Manny to his equally hapless but always gung ho buddy, Rowley, his snarky garage-band rocker big brother Rodrick, and the rest of the middle school milieu,  all of  which manage to  get in the way of  Greg's only life goal, to reach the top level in Twisted Wizard.

Christine Webster's, Jeff Kinney, with Code (Remarkable Writers) (AV2 Books, 2012), the opener in the biography series Remarkable Writers, features a clear description of the years of  hard work and constant revision that went into Kinney's runaway success--to date six best-sellers and a very popular movie spin-off.  Webster points out the many failures that led to this success. and the drive, life choices, and frequent changes of direction that resulted in Kinney's career accomplishments. The author also provides additional supplementary and back matter--a timeline, a breakdown of the biography as a literary type, a quiz on the facts in the text, and a audio-visual online link with even more information for book reports or browsing. Jeff Kinney comes across as a real person, a guy, a dad, and  a writer with whom many kids can identify and perhaps emulate in finding their own futures, and this series helps young readers go right along with him in the creation of his best-selling and beloved character.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reading Riot: I'm Not Reading! by Jonathan Allen




Owly, Baby Owl's plush toy owl, is a model of storytime decorum. Baby Chick obligingly settles himself down with equally excellent deportment, and Baby Owl opens the book.

But proper storytime order is not meant to be. First Baby Chick's sisters and brothers and then what seems to be dozens of cousins' invade the story circle, climbing all over Baby Owl, perching on his head, on his lap, and even on the book itself, chirping and flapping, pushing and shoving, and totally invading his space! Baby Owl tips over backward and Owly is buried in a mass of yellow fluff and beaks and wiggly little chick legs.

This is not the proper way to listen to a story!

It sounds as if author Jonathan Allen must have made a few school visits and on at least one occasion had to face one of the toughest audiences in the world, the preschool story circle. His newest Baby Owl story, I'm Not Reading! (Boxer Books, 2013), recounts such a rowdy read-aloud event, with the audience proving to be overwhelming. Luckily for Baby Owl, Father and Mother Owl arrive in time to intervene and invoke the rules restoring proper story decorum, with Allen's strong-minded little hero finally in the driver's seat where he likes to be. The story gets read and all's well in the story circle at last, but Baby Owl and the rescued Owly are only too happy to say goodbye and settle down at home to let Daddy Owl do the reading to them.

Allen's stubborn little preschool protagonist gets the opportunity to see what it's like to be the one trying to enforce the rules in this humorous little story, and kids will giggle over the melee of fluff and squawks that result when the audience doesn't follow the rules and the message gets lost in the mayhem. This short and sweet story is best paired with others from this series such as Allen's tale of this adorable baby night owl in "I'm Not Sleepy!"  or his "I'm Not Cute!" and  I'm Not Ready! (Baby Owl).

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Synchronicity: When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky by Lauren Stringer

When Stravinsky composed music all by himself, his piano trilled an orchestra
with violins and flutes, trumpets and tubas...
with the ringling and tingling of cymbals and bells...

When Nijinsky composed dances all by himself,
his torso floated--a swan.
His legs leaped--a deer....

Stravinsky was an acclaimed composer and conductor, whereas Nijinsky was a much ballyhooed ballet dancer.

But they had one thing in common: they both had dreams of creating something extraordinary and different.

And then the two of them met at the right time and place in musical history.

The world was moving into a new era: there were time- and space-bending inventions--the airplane, automobile, telegraph and radio--and complex new forms of art and architecture were being created. Even women's skirts were growing skimpier. Everyone was in a rush to be modern.

And when Stravinsky met Nijinsky, sparks of creativity lighted up the staid world of classical ballet as well, and the result was the premier of The Rites of Spring in 1913, with folkloric, non-traditional dance set to the sound of the new musical expressionism.

Some people hated it! They were nettled by the new.
They stood on their seats and shouted, "BOO! BOO! BOO!

And some people loved it!
They stood on their seats and shouted "BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO!"

And music and dance were never the same again.

Lauren Stringer's When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet, and One Extraordinary Riot (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) has also premiered this month to rave reviews. Her strong, twisting illustrations perfectly capture the sense of Stravinsky's wildly crashing music and Nijinsky's fabled leaps in the iconoclastic ballet she describes so well for young readers.

"Music and dance made entertaining and joyous," proclaims Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal adds their own star of approval to the accolades.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Size Doesn't Matter: OhSoTiny Bunny by David Kirk


While in his daytime world he is the smallest one, in his nighttime dreams OhSo can be as big as he wants to be--as big as a tree, as big as a dragon, as big as a mountain. In his dreams he is the biggest thing in a world of huge carrots and fields of enormous clovers. He gets hugely hungry and eagerly munches on endless fields of giant lettuces.

OhSo is happy in his fantasy world . . . except that since he is so big, he is also very lonely. There is no one his size to play with there..

Perhaps he is going to have to wake up and go outside into his own backyard to find a friend, a beautiful bunny just his size. Sometimes, it is better to be just the right size, even if for now, it's a small size.

David Kirk shares the dreams of preschoolers who long to be big--really big--in his Oh So Tiny Bunny (Feiwel & Friends, 2013). His illustrative style is fantastical but appealing, with surreal detail and shifting perspectives which make each page a new panorama. OhSo is a different bunny marching to a different drummer, but one with which kids will instinctively feel comfortable. As Kirkus Reviews says, "it's the emotional flow of the text and the wildly exuberant ego exploration that make this fanciful story memorable. Keep dreaming, little Oh So."


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fine Feathered Friends: Peep & Ducky by David Martin





Birds of a feather flock together, and little chick Peep and sturdy buddy Duck are no exception.

They can't WAIT to get together every day at the playground.  These two feather friends share a fondness for slides (KaThump!) that give Duck a boo-boo on his bummy, but a tickle and giggle shared by Peep make him all better.  Puddles are more Duck's idea of fun than Peep's, but snacks meet with unanimous approval.  Even a necessary comfort stop finds them sharing identical potties!

Time flies when you're having fun, and before they know it, it's time to leave. Momma Hen calls Time!  and Poppa Duck agrees.  The two playmates leave their excavation project reluctantly and wave goodbye--until next time, that is.

David Martin's tale of two little fowl friends, Peep and Ducky (Candlewick, 2013), is as cheery a springtime toddler outing tale as can be found, illustrated fetchingly by David Walker's jelly-bean-hued cartoon characters, a wee blue chick and a little yellow duck, a pair of just-hatched lucky buddies who have each found their own fine feathered friend.  An easy reader, filled with a preschooler's favorite things to do in a park, this one has lots of rhymes, sound effects, and repetition ("Lucky, Lucky, Lucky") to tempt the ear of the youngest picture book fan. Author/reviewer Claudia Mills cheers: "This rollicking portrait of the sweet, simple pleasures of young childhood is a picture book treat that should leave child readers feeling as lucky as Peep and Ducky." 

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spoofin' Foo Foo: Little Bunny Foo Foo by Cori Doerrfeld



Bunny Foo Foo looks innocuous enough, but why is she wandering through the woods with a spiteful spatula and a malevolent oven mitt in hand? And what are all those cute little mice doing with frosted cupcakes?

Why do field mice need cupcakes anyway? Whatever happened to healthy nuts and seeds?

In a lullingly lovely woodland setting, a cute little bunny girl seems to be on a relentless mouse hunt. Isn't that a job for some kitty cat?

It's all a nursery-rhyming mystery.

Little Bunny Foo Foo is bopping mice with her mitt and slapping them with her spatula, snatching those cupcakes and stowing them in her cute little basket. It's a strange scenario to begin with, but when the Good Fairy appears out of the blue to reprimand Foo Foo, she only grows more intense, despite the warnings of the fairy that she's going to become a Monster Bunny if she persists with this mice mugging!

Who's the bad guy here? Well, it seems the field mice started it all by swiping Little Bunny Foo Foo's cute little cupcakes right out of her kitchen, and this vengeful rabbit doesn't want revenge, just JUSTICE--and the repossession of her purloined cupcakes, of course!

Cori Doerrfeld's tongue-in-cheek take on this quasi-nursery song, Little Bunny Foo Foo: The Real Story(Dial, 2012) is certainly the alternative version, and Foo Foo definitely comes off as a not-so-sweet Easter Bunny. Despite the pastel palette of a super sugary preschool read, this bunny tale is really for the more sophisticated primary grade reader who may rejoice at a tart tale in which a supercilious fairy and a bunch of larcenous mice get their, um, just desserts!

Proffer this one along with a more faithful rendition of this traditional nursery song in Paul Brett Johnson's Little Bunny Foo Foo: Told And Sung By The Good Fairy, or Michael Rosen's more conventionally sympathetic version, Little Rabbit Foo Foo, in which the felonious mice become goblins, for a trio of rabbity renderings of this rather quirky fractured fairy tale.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Alibi Betty: Betty Bunny Didn't Do It by Michael B. Kaplan


Betty Bunny's brother Henry and sister Kate thought she was a handful, too. In fact, as usual, they were too busy to play with little Betty. So Betty decides that she will play ball by herself. She grabs a ball and glove.



Mom's favorite lamp bites the dust. Betty knows she's in a compromising situation. She begins to stuff the broken lamp under the rug, but Henry and Kate catch her in the act. Then Mom arrives to survey the situation.



Big brother Bill has a momentary spell of protectiveness for his baby sister and tries to take the rap for her, and Mom congratulates him for confessing. Now Betty sees that fessing up is a new way to get some compliments out of Mom, so she comes up with a real whopper. She confesses to robbing a bank and waits expectantly for the praise to start rolling in.

It seems that it's time for one of those serious talks with Mom.

How that handful Betty Bunny learns what it means to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth is the subject of Michael Kaplan's latest in his Betty Bunny series, Betty Bunny Didn't Do It (Dial, 2013). Betty is an ebullient preschooler who readily admits to telling "an honest lie," but discovers that Mom and Dad have a different idea about the true meaning of honesty. Sorting out the difference between little white lies, whoppers, and the honest truth is Betty's job de jour, in the third in Kaplan's  comic Betty Bunny tales. Stephane Jonisch's softly humorous illustrations of Betty being herself are sympathetic to this youngster sorting out the rules in a big family where things can get confusing when you're the youngest. Kirkus Reviews nails the insouciant charm of this new Betty tale well, saying "Jorisch's enchanting watercolor illustrations capture Betty's bouncy behavior and her family's reactions with delightful flair, from the carrot-shaped hair ornament on Betty Bunny's head to the hint of a mustache on the teenage brother's suitably snide upper lip."

Earlier books in this series are Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake (see review here) and Betty Bunny Wants Everything. (see review here.)

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Becoming Real: The Velveteen Rabbit (The Classic Edition) by Margery Williams Bianco

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. Generally, by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get very shabby. But these things don't matter, because once you are REAL, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

An abiding story, Margery Williams Bianco's classic toy story has been associated with the Easter season, not just  for its toy rabbit hero, but for its deep spiritual theme, a resurrection metaphor, a story of spiritual growth and transformation in a warm, homey setting of a boy who survives a serious illness with the comfort of his once beautiful Christmas rabbit.  Generations of children have heard this story, some hearing only a fanciful story of  an outgrown toy, and some growing into the understanding of this story as they become adults.

Artist Charles Santore has given this classic transformation tale of How Toys Become Real, giving to its venerable narrative a new illustrative style, beautiful paintings in a masterful palette which rival those of the original in evoking this lovely story of childhood, old age, and the hope that they share.  His  The Velveteen Rabbit: Or How Toys Become Real (Applesauce Press, 2012), an elegantly tasteful reimagining of this text is a wonderful way to share this meaningful story with young children, a story that never grows old as its readers always do. A must read for all children in those magical years.

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