BooksForKidsBlog

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Looks Familiar! Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman

ONE DAY WHEN WE WERE WALKING THROUGH THE PARK ON THE WAY TO BREAKFAST, I SAW A VERY TALL MAN.

HE REMINDED ME OF SOMEONE, BUT I COULDN'T THINK WHO.

And when they are paying for their pancakes, the girl spots Lincoln's profile on a penny, and suddenly she is reminded that the tall man she saw must have looked like Lincoln!

Now that her attention is on Honest Abe, she sees reminders of him all around. She heads for the local library to see what she can learn about President Lincoln.

And she learns a lot. She finds out about his young days in a log cabin, the time he and his brother and sister stayed alone on the frontier for months while his father went back to Kentucky to bring back a wife and stepmother for them. That stepmother brought a big box of books and the willingness to let little Abe, sometimes called "lazy Abie," sit by the fire and read for a while every day.

She learned that Abe was kicked in the head by a mule, but when he regained consciousness, he suddenly announced, to everyone's amazement, that he was going to be a lawyer.. And, although his path was hard and indirect, a lawyer he became, and a clever and successful one he was.

The girl reads about his pretty, plump wife Mary and his four sons who had a dog named Fido, his fondness for the music of Mozart, and the way his belief in justice led him to the presidency just as the Civil War began and ultimately gave him the chance to sign the Emancipation Proclamation and greet the war's end with hope and compassion.

"WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE... WITH CHARITY FOR ALL...."

Maira Kalman's Looking at Lincoln (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012) is a delightful way to introduce primary students to the life of Abraham Lincoln, one that will perhaps provoke curiosity to explore more detailed biographies of that really tall man who made such a difference in history. Kalman's soft, faux-naif style adds a childlike charm to the basic facts about this famous February personality and important president.

"Appealingly childlike. . . . Kalman's artwork is the main attraction here, with appealing naive illustrations done in gouache," says Kirkus Reviews. And School Library Journal amiably adds "With a breezy conversational style, thick lines, and vivid bulky colors, Kalman provides a unique introduction to our 16th president,"

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rainy Day Clue Quest: Max & Ruby's Treasure Hunt by Rosemary Wells


"LET'S HAVE A TEA PARTY!" SAID MAX'S SISTER RUBY. "GOOD IDEA!" SAID RUBY'S BEST FRIEND LOUISE.

The sun is shining brightly, and the two girls and Max and his friend Lily decide to take their fun al fresco for a picnic. They pack up their tea set and a perfect blue gingham picnic cloth. Ready?

Not so fast. The sunny day has quickly turned to showers. Their tea party is a washout! 

But Grandma has an alternative.
"LET'S HAVE A TREASURE HUNT!

THERE ARE SEVEN CLUES HIDDEN IN SEVEN PLACES IN THE HOUSE.   FOLLOW THE CLUES ONE AFTER ANOTHER, AND YOU WILL FIND A TREASURE!"

The kids can't resist the quest. Each clue is a well-known rhyme with a key word missing. Guessing the word supplies the place to find the next hidden rhyme, and the four youngsters race through the house to locate the clue that follows. Some of the items are partially hidden and it takes all four sets of eyes to spy them out. Some of the clues take a bit of thinking outside the box:
"LITTLE BOY BLUE, COME BLOW YOUR ...."

The secret word "horn" comes quickly, but where is there a horn in Grandma's house? She doesn't play trombone! "Garage!" shouts Max, and he gets to honk the horn in the car when they find the note taped to the steering wheel. Finally they are down to the last clue:
"HICKORY DICKORY DOCK. THE MOUSE RAN UP THE ...."

"BLOCK? LOCK? SOCK?" SAID LOUISE.

"CLOCK!" SHOUTS MAX.

But there are flocks of clocks in Grandma's house, a bedside alarm clock, a kitchen clock, the guest room clock.....

But there is one BIG clock, one with a little door on the front that opens! Can the timely treasure be there?

With Rosemary Well's beloved sister-and-brotheract leading the way with their friends Louise and Lily joining the hunt, Well's new large format lift-the-flap book, Max and Ruby's Treasure Hunt (Max & Ruby) (Viking, 2012) provides an engaging (and possibly inspiring) rainy-day read all on its own. Wells' illustrations are as charmingly portrayed as ever, and the youngest of the treasure seekers, Lily and Max, find themselves full partners in the puzzle with the older kids. The fun of the flaps, larger versions of Grandma's hidden clues inside sealed envelopes, will give little fingers something to do, while completing the clue rhymes will keep all of their heads in the game with this rainy-day fun from Rosemary Wells.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Yarn Yarn: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

ON A COLD AFTERNOON, IN A COLD LITTLE TOWN, WHERE EVERYWHERE YOU LOOKED WAS EITHER THE WHITE OF SNOW OR THE BLACK OF SOOT FROM CHIMNEYS, ANNABELLE FOUND A BOX FILLED WITH YARN OF EVERY COLOR.

There seems nothing else to do with her surprising find but knit, so Annabelle knits and purls herself a multicolored sweater. Pleased with her product, she also knits one for her dog Max.

BUT THERE WAS STILL MORE YARN.

In a world where everything is black or white, Annabelle and Max are sure to be noticed.

"YOU TWO LOOK RIDICULOUS," NATE LAUGHED.

Annabelle doesn't get mad, but she does get even, knitting up Nate (and his glowering dog) two natty sweaters.

At school the kids in her class can't stop whispering and twisting around to stare at her sweater. Her teacher Mr. Norman berates her for the distraction, so Annabelle obliges by knitting a woolly sweater for everyone, even her sheepish teacher.

AND ANNABELLE STILL HAD EXTRA YARN.

As Annabelle keeps on knitting, dressing the drab town's inhabitants and habitations with colorful coverings, the fame of her inexhaustible yarn box spreads afar, to the castle of an archduke, who sails to her shores to offer a millions for her miraculous yarn box. When Annabelle refuses to sell, the archduke has her mysterious box stolen in the dark of the night, sailing away with his prize.

But back in his seaside redoubt, the archduke opens the charmed box to find nothing but a pair of  useless knitting needles. Foiled, he curses Annabelle with perpetual unhappiness and hurls the useless box from his tower window into the sea.

But it seems the magic box of yarn knows the way back to its true mistress, in Mac Barnett's and Jon Klassen's Extra Yarn (Balzer & Bray, 2012), a modern fairy tale with the theme that the power of art can be bestowed but never bought. Chosen as a 2013 Caldecott Honor Book for Jon Klassen's classically restrained illustrations which tell the tale with great charm, this yarn about yarn shows again why he took the Caldecott Medal this year for his wonderfully witty and ironically insightful This Is Not My Hat (see my review here). Mac Barnett is no slouch as an author either, and the two of them together can spin quite a yarn--without dropping a stitch.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Somebody Loves Me? The Candy Smash by Jacqueline Davies

Evan looked over at Jessie's desk. Lined up in neat rows were four perfect paper spirals, four curly paper rosettes, and twenty identical paper hearts... so precise they looked like they came from a factory.

It was a times like this that Evan wished his little sister wasn't in the same fourth-grade class with him.

Jessie was good at math and writing and science and just about everything that counted in school. She had even skipped the third grade. Why did she have to be so smart?

But despite her precocious abilities, Jessie is only eight years old, so when the love bug bites in Mrs. Overton's fourth grade class, Jessie just doesn't get it. To her meticulous, scientific mind, it is a mystery to be solved empirically. And since the February issue of her newspaper, The 4-0 Forum, is due soon, she decides that a survey of what her classmates think about love, complete with statistical pie graphs, is the way to explain the unexplainable.

Like, why is someone leaving everyone in the class personalized boxes of candy hearts? Why is her best friend Megan Moriarty acting strange, bawling in the girls' bathroom and refusing to tell Jessie all about it? When she finds his poem "Pony Girl" while emptying his trash and publishes it on the front page of the Forum, why is her brother Evan angry instead of pleased? And why is Mrs. Overton confiscating all her copies of the Forum and talking about violations of "privacy?"

Why is everyone in the class mad at her when her statistics are perfectly valid?

In this fourth book in her best-selling The Lemonade War series, Davies continues to document with humor and insight the differences between the empirical Jessie and her intuitive brother Evan. Evan finds himself inexplicably under the spell of the pony-tailed Megan Moriarity, getting that special zing from Mrs. Overton's poetry lessons, and writing his own poetry using his newly learned skills. Jessie, as yet un-stricken with Cupid's early arrows, doesn't understand why everyone's crushes are embarrassing secrets, but she's sure that documenting everyone's experiences will uncover the truth, even when she discovers to her surprise that she is the object of a mysterious someone's crush, too. Jessie, of course, is clueless, but readers will spot her admirer right away, in this excellent sequel in Davies' outstanding series for elementary readers.

Growing up, especially discovering the strange ways of the human heart, is hard to do, but in the hands of a terrific writer like Davies, who mixes sadness, humor, and love perfectly, The Candy Smash (The Lemonade War Series) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) is a perfect February read-aloud novel, combining a great middle grade fiction outing with built-in poetry lessons for a blend of Valentine's Day-Poetry Month topicality. Davies appends the full text of Jessie's censored newspaper along with her own glossary of poetry terms and the full texts of poems--from Emily Dickinson through E.E. Cummings and on to Sylvia Plath--referenced in the plot. This series, like Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby series, takes the reader along with the growing experiences of memorable characters in realistic family, friendship, and school experiences. Not to be missed!

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

In the Forest of the Night:... Sleep Like A Tiger by Mary Logue


ONCE THERE WAS A LITTLE GIRL WHO DIDN'T WANT TO GO TO SLEEP.

SHE TOLD HER MOTHER, "I'M NOT TIRED."

SHE TOLD HER FATHER, "I'M JUST NOT SLEEPY."

Uneasy lies the head that wears this crown. Our princess is simply too busy to go to bed. She rides her scooter; she plays with her stuffed tiger and his friends and protests that she's not going to sleep.

The royal parents nod their crowned heads as they offer her favorite doll and The Little Prince for a bedtime read, but the princess protests that she is  wide awake.

Wisely, the king and queen opt for gradualism.
HER PARENTS SAID THAT WAS FINE.

BUT SHE HAD TO PUT HER PAJAMAS ON.

SHE SHOULD WASH HER FACE AND BRUSH HER TEETH.

IT FELT GOOD.

"DOES EVERYONE IN THE WORLD GO TO SLEEP?" SHE ASKED.

The royal couple nod and describe how their dog and cat are snoozing already. The Princess doesn't give up that easily. She cites bats, who fly at night. The King and Queen agree, but point out that bats fold their wings and snooze all day. The Princess persists, asking about whales and snails, bears and--the tiger:
"HE FINDS SOME SHADE AND SLEEPS.
THAT WAY HE STAYS STRONG"

Reassuring the Princess that she can stay awake if she chooses, her parents leave her alone with her thoughts of slumbering creatures. Her crisp sheets are like a nest, cozy as her dog's couch, warm as the cat snoozing before the fire. Soon she is drifting into sleepiness like the whale, hanging it up like the bats, slipping into sleepiness like the hibernating bear, and so, lying down with the warm sleeping tiger...

... FELL FAST ASLEEP.

Mary Logue's lyrical narrative soothes, but Pamela Zagarenski's illustrations take this little royal bedtime tale into the lands of dreams with startlingly beautiful surreal illustrations that the poet William Blake might have envied. Zagarenski's princess is both real child and stubbornly iconic bedtime resister, and her tiger morphs from plush toy to sleeping majesty in a way that seems only natural in the sweep of this gorgeous picture book. Zagarenski's endpapers tell it all, with the opening spread offering a gigantic yellow sun illuminating a white tiger on top of the boxcar of a disjointed train on its way to the closing endpapers which show  a tower window with the Princess asleep with her toy tiger, with the white tiger still riding that night train under a silver moon inscribed "Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the forest of the night."

Pamela Zagarenski received a 2013 Caldecott Honor Award for her collaboration with Mary Logue on Sleep Like a Tiger (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). As the Washington Post's reviewer writes, "Set against Caldecott Honor medalist Pamela Zagarenski's gloriously soft-toned dreamscapes of moons and stars and toys and towns, the lyrical text magnifies the magical mood."

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Identity Crisis: The Very Beary Tooth Fairy by Arthur A. Levine

ZACH'S MOM TOLD HIM TO STAY AWAY FROM PEOPLE

"THEY'RE DANGEROUS AND UNPREDICTABLE," SHE WARNED.

AND ZACH DID AS HE WAS TOLD.

But Zach is young and curious, and one day he eavesdrops on a family of humans camping not far from his den and hears the mother tell the little boy to leave his loose tooth alone and wait until it comes out by itself so he can leave it under his pillow for the tooth fairy.  Since Zach, too, has a loose tooth, he now has a serious question:
IS THE TOOTH FAIRY A PERSON OR A BEAR?

Could the sweet tooth fairy be one of those "dangerous and unpredictable" people his mom warned about?

His older sister is vague, saying it "depends." Mom tells him not to worry about it, but Zach can't help himself.  He's certain that the Easter Bunny has to be a rabbit. He's pretty sure that Santa is a bear. But who is this tooth fairy? Mom says something that is absolutely no help:
"A BEAR CAN BE ANYONE, AND ANYONE CAN BE A BEAR."
Should he be worried?

And when his loose tooth finally comes out and Zach faces bedtime with his tooth under his pillow, he finds it hard to fall asleep. What will this famous tooth fairy be?

Arthur A. Levine's new The Very Beary Tooth Fairy (Scholastic, 2013) pictures the concerns of youngsters waiting for their first transaction with the fabled tooth fairy perfectly, and although Zach's experience turn out to be reassuring for little bears, this charming little beary fairy story leaves the mystery  intriguingly open for young humans. Sarah Brannen's illustrations are done in a comforting pastel palette, with an appealing ursine protagonist to do the pre-tooth-fairy worrying for the young reader. Pair this one with Lucy Bate's and Diane deGroat's classic Little Rabbit's Loose Tooth for a duet of loose tooth tales.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hardhat Cats: Construction Kitties by Judy Sue Goodwin Sturgis


THE SUN IS UP.
TIME FOR WORK.
CONSTRUCTION KITTIES
GRAB THEIR HATS,
INTO THEIR TRUCKS.

Four cute kitties--a black, brown, black-and-white, and gray-striped kitten--are the construction crew. They slip on their hardhats, jump into their crew-cab truck, and head off the building site as the sun is rising.

Waiting for them are all those cool construction vehicles--a loader, excavator, dump truck and backhoe--and the cats dig into their dirt-moving duties until the sun is high in the sky.

At noon the kitties knock off for lunch--milk, sandwiches and sardines--and one kitty take a bit of a cat nap until it's time to return to the job. Kitties drive crawlers and steer their 'dozers until their job is done and the construction site has shaped up into a nice flat space for a feline playground.  Soon it is sundown, and it's time to hop down from the drivers' seats,  hang up those hardhats, and head homeward.
A JOB WELL DONE!

Judy Sue Goodwin Sturgis' just-out Construction Kitties (Henry Holt, 2013) has appealing kitties and all the best-loved construction gear that preschoolers dote on. Artist Shari Halpern's blackline pen-and-ink figures and full-bleed color pages, with the heavy equipment shown in carefully detailed profile, drive the rudiments of dirt-moving home with aplomb. "A good addition to construction-machine collections everywhere," says Kirkus.

Pair this one with Sherri Rinker's and Tom Lichtenheld's best-selling, dirt-moving Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (see my review here)-- with comment from the author herself-- for a doubly moving experience.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

A Comedy of Errors: Pug and Doug by Steve Breen


PUG AND DOUG WERE ALWAYS HANGING OUT TOGETHER BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT BEST FRIENDS DO.

PUG AND DOUG HAD LOTS IN COMMON, TOO!

They share a fondness for doughnuts, scary vampires, and not-so-scary polka songs. But like most of the best buds in literature, they also have their differences. Doug dotes on the artistic side of life: he spots fantastical shapes in clouds and sculpts a passable snowman facsimile of Rodin's The Thinker. Pug does none of the above. His snowman looks more like Quasimodo, and to him, a cloud is just a cloud.
SOMETIMES DOUG THOUGHT THAT PUG COULD BE A REAL STICK-IN-THE-MUD!

But all is well with them until Doug's birthday approaches. Suddenly it seems that Pug is avoiding him. He has to dash down town "to pick up a friend." Doug spots one of their favorite photos together in Pug's trash. And then, when he begins to spy on him, even stooping to snooping through his window, he sees an fresh entry in Pug's diary:
"I'M REALLY SICK OF OLD DOUG... "

On a mission to discover what their problem is, Doug is about to knock on Pug's door when he hears his voice inside telling someone "You're my buddy!"

Brokenhearted, Doug comes to the inevitable realization that he has been supplanted in the best friend department.

In this comedy of errors, Doug's fertile imagination is NOT his best friend. It turns out that the Pug was interrupted while journalling and intended to write "I'm sick of old Doughnuts!" And his new best "buddy," is actually Pug's birthday gift for Doug, a parrot named, of course, "Buddy."

All's well that ends well, as Shakespeare's comedies of error conclude, and these two unlike and unlikely friends, like Frog and Toad, Elephant and Piggie, and many another comic pair, discover their misunderstandings when they talk things over...

"...BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS DO!"

Steve Breen's new odd-couple tale, Pug and Doug (Dial, 2013) makes this oft-told tale of comic misunderstandings fresh and new with  the subtle sub-theme that differences are what often give a friendship that special spark. The final-page panels have an unexpected but predictable little anecdote which ends the story with a bit of comic irony that readers will relish.

Breen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, uses his expertise in pacing panels within his layout to get the maximum comic effect out of his story's misadventures. As Publishers Weekly puts it, Breen's "design enhances the reading experience by turning a gentle, humorous story into a bit of a page turner."

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hard Times On the Way to Wonderful: The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis


"We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful."

A funny thing happened on the way to Wonderful for the optimistic Malone Family. "And they lived happily ever after..." is the way the smart and self-confident eleven-year-old Deza thinks all stories should end. Sure, they live in a rented, furnished apartment in Gary, and sure, Jimmie hasn't grown a fraction of an inch since he was twelve, and sure, her beloved teacher tells her her excellent writing is a "credit to her race," but her mom and dad have jobs and Deza has a best friend, and although short, Jimmie is the best singer in the world, and they all believe that they are on their way to "wonderful." Jimmie is even sure that Joe Lewis is going to win his upcoming bout with Max Schmelling.

But it's 1935, in the depths of the Great Depression, and it looks like their "happy-ever-after" is not happening for the Malones. First, Father is laid off at the Gary, Indiana, steel mill, and when he goes out to catch some fish for the table with friends, he is seriously injured and goes missing for days. The strong and witty Father who loved alliterative language and doted on his "Dear Darling Daughter" comes back at last, missing many teeth and most of his hope and love of life. Then, when Mother loses her housekeeping job when the local banker's wife falls on hard times herself, Father tells them all that he's going back to find a job in his hometown, Flint, Michigan. But when no letters or money follow as promised, the Malones are evicted from their home by a landlord who wants to rent the space to two families who will pay more.

The family has few belongings and only a few dollars left, with not even bus fare to Flint, where Father's mother lives, so they finally decide that they will have to stow away in a railroad boxcar heading that way. Grandma Malone is nowhere to be found there, and the Malones are forced to live in a Hooverville shanty town outside town. The camp boss, Stew, is rough but kind, and a traveling harmonica player hears Jimmie sing and talks him into heading to Detroit with him, promising a job in a speakeasy there.

Then their camp is suddenly raided and shut down, and Deza and her mother find themselves truly homeless. But a kind-hearted woman lets them sleep on her floor, Mrs. Malone finds some part-time jobs, and Deza manages to enroll in school, where she discovers that, unlike her school in Gary, "colored" children in Flint never make grades above C. Wonderful is looking further and further down that  road.

And then Deza hears that her brother has become the famous Little Jimmy Jones, a popular nightclub singer, and she heads for Detroit to try to find Jimmie and maybe Father, too. Nothing stops the Mighty Miss Malone, the name her father gave her, and Deza does what she has to do.

The winner of several Newbery honors, Christopher Paul Curtis, author of The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, Bud, Not Buddy and Elijah of Buxton, deftly returns to the well of African-American history for his story of The Mighty Miss Malone (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2012).  Deza is indeed a mighty spirit, a girl whose upbeat intelligence and steady loyalty to her family just has to find that happy-ever-after, even if she can't really believe in fairy tale endings anymore. In the hands of a master of characterization and storytelling, Deza shines through the Depression decade, a credit to the human race, or as Holden Caulfield put it so well, "with all her f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact." As School Library Journal says, "Curtis does not sugarcoat reality and focuses instead on the resilience of a memorable character. An absorbing read."

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Good Sophie! Time Out for Sophie by Rosemary Wells


"NO, SOPHIE! NO THROWING SUPPER!

TIME-OUT FOR SOPHIE!"

Mama tries to be patient, but when that lovely  bowl of mac 'n' cheese hits the floor for the second time, Sophie is sent off to the thinking chair.

Later Daddy has the same problem. He's taking his rotation folding laundry and Sophie is "helping."

Just as Dad gets the stack of beautifully folded laundry into the laundry basket to deliver upstairs, Sophie "accidentally" knocks it off the dryer. Dad shows great self control as he patiently folds it all over again This is a good game, Sophie seems to say to herself as she manages to spill it all out of the basket AGAIN, this time creating a deliberate deluge of clean laundry all over the room!

Guess what happens next!

But Sophie seems not to have gotten the message. Later that day Grandma invites Sophie to sit beside her as they share a story. It's a sweet thought, but Sophie thinks grabbing Grandma's glasses and sticking them on her own nose is way more fun than a story. Grandma repossesses her glasses and tries again. Giggling, Sophie snatches them again and again, finally sticking them triumphantly on Bear's face. Is it time for time-out for Sophie again?

But Grandma tries another twist with her willful little trickster.

This time it's TIME-OUT for the grownup.

Grandma drops the book, takes herself to the rocker where there's no room for Sophie, crosses her arms, and rocks silently.

Sophie is astonished. Hey, this is no fun, she thinks. With concerned concentration she takes the spectacles off Bear and sticks them carefully back on Grandma's nose where they belong.

"NO TIME-OUT, GRANDMA!

Turning the tables on the mischievous Sophie seems to work this time, but with Rosemary Well's funny new toddler character, we just know there may be more time-outs in Sophie's future, in Time-Out for Sophie (Viking, 2013). Sophie is little mouse girl with that gleam in her eye that just says "Let's see what will happen if...." Parents who have had toddlers will recognize that exasperating merry prankster that lurks in every tot now and then, but author-illustrator Rosemary Wells knows how to portray toddlers and to show a loving family dealing with those episodes in Sophie's delightful debut. Wells' signature style is self-evident here in her illustrations, as with minimal text, she lets her characters' body language and expressive faces tell the tale so well.  More Sophie!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Make Way! Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore

It is a beautiful day, and a mother sets out with her little ones for a walk through town to the park. They stop for a snack, and then make their way back home, Mom leading the way.

Nothing unusual about this story, except that this mom is a mallard duck and her five babies are ducklings. As they make their way from their home pond and into town, some pedestrians ignore them, some gawk, and some grin at the little yellow ducklings waddling and scuttling along the city sidewalks, trying to keep up with Mama.

"WHACK-A-WHACK!" MAMA DUCK CALLED
TO HER BROOD. "FOLLOW ME!"

AND PIPPIN, BIPPEN, TIPPIN, DIPPIN, AND...LAST OF ALL, LITTLE JOE LINED UP BEHIND HER.

The ducks visit the park and emerge into a parking lot on the other side, where Pippen, Bippen and Tippin stop to tear into a cast-off half of a candy bar and Dippin and Little Joe compete for a piece of a soft pretzel dropped there. It's quite an outing for the little ones, and everyone is having a great time until Mama Duck blithely hops off the curb and heads across the street. She waddles easily across a storm grating, but when the young ducks dutifully follow, it's a duckling disaster.

First, Pippen falters, and drops down between the bars of the grating, and then one by one, Bippin, Tippin, Dippin, and lastly Little Joe, fall through to join him!

OH, DEAR! THAT COULD HAVE BEEN THE END OF THE STORY,  BUT IT WASN'T BECAUSE...A WOMAN CRIED, "ALL THE BABY DUCKLINGS FELL INTO THE STORM DRAIN!" 
"CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!"

The passersby all stop and peer down into the grating, hearing the five little ones quacking up a fearful ruckus below the street.  The firemen--Joe, Paul, and Dennis--rush from their truck but all three of them are unable to open the grate.  Mama Duck is frantic.  "Whack-a-Whack!"

"OH, DEAR! THAT COULD HAVE BEEN THE END OF THE STORY, BUT IT WASN'T, BECAUSE...  A MAN NAMED PERRY HAD AN IDEA.

A passing truck driver named Perry pulls over and pulls a steel cable from his truck, hooks one end to the grate and one to his hitch, and applies some horsepower to pulling it slowly but surely loose from the opening.  Fireman Paul climbs down and passes Bippen, Pippen, Tippin, Dippin, and lastly Little Joe up, where Fireman Joe provides a pan of water where they swim happily.  Mama Duck, however, is NOT happy.  That's not the ending to this outing that she had foreseen!

"WHACK-A-WHACK!"

Mama calls the little ducklings three times and steps into the street to walk them straight back home--and right into traffic.

"OH, DEAR, THAT COULD HAVE BEEN THE END OF THE STORY....

But luckily, Fireman Dennis, thinking quickly, steps out to halt the traffic so that Mama Duck and five very lucky ducklings can cross and continue back to the safety of their pond.

All's well that ends well, and that, dear, reader, that view of six happy duck tails paddling placidly off into the sunset, is indeed THE END of this true tale.

Truth is often stranger than fiction, and based on a true incident occurring in Montauk, New York, Eva Moore's just-published Lucky Ducklings (Scholastic, 2013), eerily parallels the framework of Robert McClosky's evergreen 1942 Caldecott winner, Make Way for Ducklings (Puffin Storytime) in both its plotline and its illustrations by Nancy Carpenter, whose retro but realistic digitally colored charcoal drawings portray both the drama and the humor in this gentle story in the spirit of McCloskey's own style. Carpenter's portrayal of Little Joe hanging head down by his little webbed feet in the grate and the ducklings-eye view of concerned children peering down through the bars at their plight are priceless. Eva Moore's narration, with its oft-repeated phrases, has a cadence that will charm youngsters, and this well-told tale of not-so-streetwise ducks and the urban safety net that helpful humans provide has all the heart of its venerable predecessor. As Kirkus Reviews able critic says, ",,, this book impresses all on its own with its fine design, compelling story, expressive images and gentle environmental message."

Monday, February 18, 2013

True Tale from the Crypt: Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin


The broken lock fell to the ground.

Mullen pushed the gate open and entered the small room. Hughes stepped in with the lantern, followed by Swegles.

Hughes pointed the light at the floor. There it was: the long, white marble sarcophagus. At one end, carved into the stone was the name: LINCOLN. In an arc above the name were the famous words of his second inaugural address: WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE, WITH CHARITY FOR ALL.

Despite the veneration that his nation has paid this revered president, Abraham Lincoln did not lead a charmed life. Indeed, bad fortune followed him even beyond the grave. 2013 Newbery-winning (for Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Newbery Honor Book), author Steve Sheinkin's newest, Lincoln's Grave Robbers (Scholastic, 2013), tells the little-known story of the nearly successful attempt to steal his body from its crypt in the Springfield Lincoln Monument.

The Secret Service was a new federal agency in 1875, conceived, not yet to guard the president, but to stop the rampant counterfeiting that threatened the credibility of legitimate Treasury currency. Its first success was the conviction of master engraver Ben Boyd. Without Boyd, the "coneymen" of the Midwest were deprived of their premier artist, the source of the highly realistic "coney" (counterfeit money) which had supplied a Mafia-like network of criminals. The remaining members of the chain knew that without Boyd to prepare the plates, there would be no easy funny money, no further fortunes for them. And so was born an bizarre and daring plan: to steal Lincoln's body from its unguarded crypt in its Springfield monument and ransom it for the release of Boyd from federal prison and $200,000 in cash.

Enter the hero of Sheinkin's narrative--early Secret Service agent Patrick Tyrell. Based in Chicago, Tyrell had cultivated a network of informers and gotten wind of an early attempt to steal Lincoln's body which was aborted when one of the conspirators bragged to an attractive female drinking companion of the coming heist of the Presidential coffin. In a sort of Law and Order story of careful detective work, Agent Tyrell shadowed the known counterfeiters in the plot, but in order to assure that the conspirators would be caught in the act and convicted, he needed inside information. Tyrell's objective was, of course, to keep Lincoln's body safe, but also to obtain the information to convict and put away "Big Jim" Kennally, the mastermind and paymaster of the conspirators. And for that he recruited the perfect mole, a double agent who could join the conspiracy and tip off the agents when the deal would actually go down.

That man was Lewis Swegles, horse thief, burglar, and ex-con, a man of steel nerves and, it appears, great acting ability who agreed, for a goodly sum, to infiltrate the gang and report their plans back to the small coterie of Secret Service agents assigned to the case. In a cloak-and-dagger case which involved months of shadowing, secret meetings and messages, at last the date of the caper was known--November 7, Election Day, when the entire town of Springfield would be consumed with the incredibly close presidential race between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden.

The Lincoln Monument with its crypt, Lincoln's body inside a marble sarcophagus, was dark and apparently unguarded, as a small team of agents and a couple of hired Pinkerton detectives huddled inside the "labyrinth," a system of tunnels under the towering obelisk that separated the museum from the crypt. Everything was going according to Tyrell's plan--until one of the hired detectives, hearing Swegles' whispered code word, scrambled toward the opening to the crypt and accidentally set off his revolver. Leaving Lincoln's wooden casket half out of the its sarcophagus, the conspirators fled into nearby woods and into the night.

What followed was, for that time, an epic manhunt.  Sheinkin's narrative of this presidential grave-robbing thriller documents what followed in a cops-and-robbers story for the ages, right down to the secret opening of Lincoln's coffin to ensure that the body snatchers had not fled with his body itself during the heist. This is a true crime story, a historical nail biter of a tale, well-told by Sheinkin and just right for his young adult readers. Publishers Weekly calls it A sizzling tale of real-life historical intrigue."

For young historians who may have been inspired to investigate Lincoln lore by the excellent Academy Award nominated movie, LINCOLN (which I can strongly recommend to middle- and high-school viewers), Sheinkin's absorbing and well-researched (with ample appendix for young researchers) Lincoln's Grave Robbers offers an awesome historical read.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cutsie Tootsies: Sweet Baby Feet by Margaret O'Hair


MORNING TIME! FEET ARE BARE.
STRETCH THEM, WAVE THEM,  THROUGH THE AIR.
BABY CRAWLS.
AND BABY SCOOTS.
WEARING ONLY HIS BIRTHDAY SUIT.

One of the best things babies have going for them is their irresistibly cute little feet, those toes too tempting to keep from kissing. But those feet have many steps to take in their lifespan, and this baby is just now walking and is  ready to run up the count. Trouble is, Mom's feet have to go almost everywhere Baby's feet go, and her counter is already turning over some big numbers.
STOMP THOSE FEET! POUND THAT TRAY!
BABY'S FOOD IS ON THE WAY!

Mom hustles Baby in his high chair, and stirs up a baby breakfast, part of which she even gets into his mouth while he's, um, exploring the textures of his breakfast and checking to see if gravity is still on the job. Yep. It's still working.

As so is Mom, as she cleans up (with the help of the family pooch) the food which hits the floor. Then Baby is off and running for the rest of the day.

It's into clothes, socks and shoes, so that Baby can play hide 'n' seek among the items in the laundry hamper. Mom cranks up the music so that Baby can tap his toes while the clothes go into the washer.

Then it's time for art, where Baby turns fingerpainting into foot-print art, cleverly combining art, music, and physical education in one activity. Another cleanup is called for, and Baby is popped into the tub for a scrub-a-dub-dub, especially those ten toesies to eliminate the paint.

Out of the tub, Baby feels refreshed and races Mama around the house, logging  lots more steps.
WHO IS TIRED? MAMA? MAYBE....
BUT FOR SURE, IT ISN'T BABY.

But, as parents know, they will finally be rewarded with a baby ready for a snuggle--at least for a few restful moments, in Margaret O'Hair's Sweet Baby Feet (Farrar, Straus, 2012) before those sweet feet are off again. Artist Tracy Dockery delivers a darling toddler in all his (or her) appealing physicality with her pastel palette and artful extension of the text, finding humorous touches in her addition of family pets, the bouncy dachshund who is eager to go wherever and do whatever with Baby, and the cat, who like most felines, knows that cat tails and toddlers don't go well together and keeps her distance wisely. Pair this one with Tom Tarpley's and Marc Brown's recent Ten Tiny Toes for a pair of sweet feet tales that you can count (to ten) on.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Before the Big Bang? Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers by Dav Pilkey


WITH ALL OF THAT MISDIRECTION OUT THERE, LIFE CAN GET A LITTLE CONFUSING. BUT DON'T WORRY, THIS EPIC NOVEL CONTAINS NO MISDIRECTION WHATSOEVER. THIS LEGENDARY TOME WILL EXPLAIN EVERYTHING, FROM OUR RECENT NARRATIVE COMPLEXITIES TO THE VAST MYSTERIES OF OUR UNIVERSE. BY THE TIME YOU GET TO PAGE 210, YOU'LL KNOW IT ALL. YOU'LL BE SMARTER THAN THE MOST BRILLIANT SCIENTIST WHO EVER WALKED THE EARTH

Killer LAFFS, manic MAYHEM, disgusting DRAMA, and funny PHYSICS, some FLIP-O-RAMA sections, and even an explanation (sort of) of the Big Bang Theory (the scientific theory, not the sitcom)--all are to be found when those crazy cartoonists of Jerome Horowitz Elementary School, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, try to sort out all the problems left over from their banishment to their own Land Before Time in Book 9 of this comic classic series.

In Dav Pilkey's latest best-selling Book Ten sequel, Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers (Scholastic, 2013)  we find our resourceful boys deprived of their creation, super-hero (nee school principal Krupp) Captain Underpants, because the nefarious villain Timmy Tinklepants (a.k.a. Professor Poopypants)) has used his version of the Way-Back Machine, the Purple Potty, to send the boys back to the primordial swamps 65 million years ago before Principal Krupp was born and way before the boys could turn him into comic co-conspirator, Captain Underpants.

But George and Harold are resourceful superhero creators. Looking for allies, the boys round up the puny population of cavemen back then to help them fight Timmy. But the cavemen seem to communicate only in grunts, requiring the lads to invent cave paintings and thereby cartooning to show the natives why Timmy Tinklepants is a bad guy. The plan works, the cavemen join the coalition, but they reckon without Timmy's other secret weapon, the Freezy Beam 4000, which freezes the world and kicks off the Ice Age. George and Harold manage to subvert Timmy's evil machine long enough to send themselves back to the future--but this time just a LIT-tle too far, thirty years too far, where they encounter their own worst nightmare.
A RUSTY GREEN 2034 HONDA CIVIC PULLED INTO THE SCHOOL PARKING LOT. IT WAS MR.KRUPP--ONLY THIS WAS A THIRTY-YEAR-OLDER VERSION OF MR. KRUPP.

MR. KRUPP MARCHED TOWARD THE PLAYGROUND TOWARD TWO OBNOXIOUS SCREAMING TEACHERS... AND SCREAMED FOUR WORDS THAT SENT SHIVERS DOWN GEORGE AND HAROLD'S SPINES.

"MR. BEARD! MR. HUTCHINS! GET THOSE KIDS INSIDE RIGHT NOW!"

THE TWO OBNOXIOUS, SCREAMING TEACHERS TURNED AROUND.

IT WAS THEM.

IT WAS THE FUTURE VERSIONS OF THEMSELVES. GEORGE AND HAROLD HAD EVOLVED INTO THE TERRIFYING, BORING, AND VENGEFUL TEACHERS THEY WERE USED TO.

Anything would be better than living out their future lives as mean and grumpy elementary teachers! George and Harold rack their brains to get themselves out of this one, in Pilkey's chortle-chasing Book 10, Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers, even taking on multiple iterations of Timmy Tinklepants in their search for a reset button and risking a return to the Big Bang, a.k.a. the Big KaBoosh, to escape this version of their future. Super silly spoofery abounds, as always, in the hands of author-illustrator Dav Pilkey, who seems to have no problem thinking outside the box. Creator of such mega-gigglers as The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen From the Future (Captain Underpants) (see my review here), Dog Breath, Kat Kong, Dogzilla,  The Dumb Bunnies, and the holiday classic, The Hallo-wiener, Pilkey's work is pitch-perfect parody for the elementary grades. Kirkus Reviews takes it all in in professional stride, adding "The author also chucks in a poopy-doo-doo song with musical notation (credited to Albert P. Einstein) and plenty of ink-and-wash cartoon illustrations to crank up the ongoing frenzy. Series fans, at least, will take this outing (and clear evidence of more to come) in stride"

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No Nighty-Night! Go To Sleep! (Max & Milo) by Heather and EthaLong

"GOODNIGHT, MAX!"

"GOODNIGHT, MILO!"

MILO COULDN'T SLEEP. "MAX! WAKE UP! I CAN'T SLEEP!"

Beaver brothers Max and Milo look as alike as two peas in a pod, but that's where the similarity ends. Max is a neatnik, with his side of the bedroom as spare as a monk's cell. Milo's side? Not so much. Lying in his tangled covers, littered with paper airplanes, toys, and cast-off clothes, Milo can't seem to join his sibling is somnolence. Drowsy Max is out like a light; wired Milo lies there with eyes wide open. "Max!!!!"

When the sleepy Max arouses long enough to suggest counting sheep, he falls back into slumber while Mile tries that remedy. No luck. Milo wakes him again.

"WHY DON'T YOU READ A BOOK?"

"GOOD IDEA!"

Max is lost in slumberland, while Milo tries to find the right bedtime book.

"READ THAT ONE... TOO LONG!... TOO SCARY!... TOO SHORT!... TOO SAD!"


"MAX!"

And so it goes. Max suggests a flashlight. Milo rigs an elaborate flashlight holder, but then finds he's too hot to get to sleep. Grumbling and sleepily mumbling, Max manages to suggest a fan. Then Milo gets thirsty. Milo can't sleep, and now Max can't sleep either!

Heather and Ethan Long's just-published Max & Milo Go to Sleep! (Aladdin, 2013) chronicles the bedtime struggles of two brothers who are definitely never on the same page, sleepwise or otherwise. Told cartoon-style, in panels of different sizes and narrated through balloons, this sleepy-time story will keep kids awake long enough to find out if the two will ever get any shuteye. Ethan Long's comic characters are goofy-looking but still familiar to any pair of roommates who have shared a room but not personalities. "Laugh out loud fun!" says Kirkus

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Spider-Man Science: Stronger Than Steel by Bridget Heos

In the Spider-Man movies, Peter Parker is able to swing from buildings, catch a falling car, and stop a speeding train--all with spider silk 
....The strength of spider silk is not exaggerated in the movies. If anything, spider silk is even stronger. In real life, Peter Parker would stop a 747 airplane with a rope of spider silk just one inch in diameter.

Finer than a hair, incredibly strong, and very flexible--spider silk is the dream material to replace steel bridge cables, titanium or alumninum aircraft skins, or Kevlar protective vests. But how to obtain mass quantities of this material and shape it into what we want it to be is a real scientific challenge.

But in the past two decades the science of bioengineering has arrived at the stage where people can begin to implement their knowledge of genomes, gene manipulation, and animal cloning to procure and use those proteins which give spider silk its phenomenal properties.

Scientists in the field began with the golden orb spider, specifically its dragline silk (used to support and anchor this spider's huge, elaborate webs),  for the task. Unlike that other critter venerated for its fine silk, the silkworm, spiders can't exactly be farmed, because they have the unfortunate tendency to, er, eat each other! So spider farms are definitely out.

The real-life spider-man, Dr. Randy Lewis, and his team saw another way to go. From the golden orb spider, they painstakingly extracted the genes responsible for dragline silk production. These genes were introduced into embryonic goats, some of whom were born both transgenic and female, capable of producing silk protein in their milk. The experiments took time and much careful work, but small quantities of that protein were extracted which could be extruded into strands just like any other man-made fiber.

If enough transgenic goats can be bred to become good milkers, could this source of spider silk's key protein be used in regular manufacturing processes to make that something that would make Peter Parker envious? Scientists are still perfecting their spider-goat milk production and have since branched out into introducing the spider silk gene into silkworms and even alfalfa plants. They already envisage many important products--incredibly thin surgical sutures, lightweight space suits, even aircraft carrier deck cables for Navy fighters' tailhooks--that would benefit from the remarkable tensile strength of spider silk.

Some of the scientists even have a less dramatic plan for the first spider silk product:

It's something that would have interested Randy's fisherman father: a fly tipper. That's the fiber that ties the hook to the fishing line. Spider silk would be stronger but thinner than the fibers currently on the market. The fish would be less likely to see it, bite through it, or break it!

The latest in the notable Scientists in the Field series, Bridget Heos' forthcoming Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope (Scientists in the Field Series) (Houghton Mifflin, 2013) doesn't go into deep into caves, slog through swamps, or down beneath the ocean. This field work takes place instead in various cooperating disciplines, from the biology lab to animal husbandry and agronomy to high-tech experiments in manufacturing, all in field research that is every bit as on the edge as any jungle biologist or deep ocean submarine. Instead of daring feats of crook catching, these modern spider-men (and women) dream of results which could make a dramatic difference in human safety and security.

With candid snapshots of orb spiders, even one on a trusting boy's cheek, appealing baby goats, transgenic glow-in-the-dark fish, and silk worms with just a touch of spider genes, this addition to the series takes young science students into new and promising areas of human exploration. Equipped with a first-rate glossary, additional source list, print or web-based, and a complete index, this one has the goods for students producing research reports.

Publishers Weekly gives this significant nonfiction book a starred review, saying, "Move over, Spider-Man. . . . Abundant photographs and a lively narrative make the topic accessible and almost lighthearted, and Heos lays groundwork for readers with a basic introduction to DNA and gene theory."

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