BooksForKidsBlog

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Picking the Patch: Pick A Circle, Gather Squares by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky

"ON OUR HAYRIDE TO THE PATCH,
WHILE WE BUMP ALONG WE'LL MATCH
DIFFERENT SHAPES TO WHAT WE SEE.
WILL YOU HARVEST THEM WITH ME?"

A dad and two kids are off on a October expedition--not to the playground or to get haircuts, but to the farm to fetch home some pumpkins. They climb out of their car and into a hay wagon pulled by a big green tractor and bounce off down the lane, following the signs and looking for shapes. Even the sign that says PUMPKINS is a rectangle, and there are rectangles all around, bits of bark flaking from the tree trunk, hay bales, the lattice on the wagon's sides, even the sides of houses. Circle shapes are everywhere, too--apples, the top and bottom of apple baskets, wagon wheels, and even black spots on a white cow.

But there are more esoteric shapes, as well. Hen's eggs are oval, and so are winter squash on the vine. Kites are diamonds in the sky, and with a pumpkin on board, Dad can carve a triangle for a nose, and some stars for its eyes.

HEXAGONS IN HONEYCOMBS,
AND CHICKEN WIRE WHERE FOXES ROAM
.

And at last those round pumpkins for round pumpkin pies are on their way home with the kids in Felicia Sanzari Chernesky's Pick a Circle, Gather Squares: A Fall Harvest of Shapes (Albert Whitman, 2013), with verses with verve and a bright autumnal palette from Susan Swan's jolly farm collages to provide the lessons in shapes and appreciation for autumn produce as well. A good pick for prep for the fall farm trip or a field trip to the pumpkin patch for primary classes and an introduction to the traditional foods of Thanksgiving as well.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Take the Scary Away: When Lions Roar by Robie Harris and Chris Raschka

WHEN LIGHTNING CRACKS!
WHEN THUNDER BOOMS!

And when a screaming monkey or a roaring lion suddenly turn a jolly visit to the zoo into a scary scenario, things can fall apart fast.

Small children can be mercurial--enthralled with novelty one moment and melting down with fright in the next--all from a suddenly scary stimulus, like a yelling daddy or a roaring lion, or, as could happen any day now, a big sister trying out her new witch mask.

Author Robie Harris and Caldecott artist Chris Raschka turn their considerable talents to dealing with the suddenly scary. Their remedy is to turn attention to something slow-moving and emotionally neutral, like ants crawling along in a row or a sleepy puppy.

SCARY! GO AWAY!

Illustrator Chris Raschka uses his loose and sloshy brush strokes and relaxed narrator's body language to put things into perspective in Harris' When Lions Roar (Orchard Books, 2013), which offers kids a quick lesson in turning off the frightful and muting their own reactions to the suddenly scary events--barking dogs, fire truck sirens, and all the vivid sights and sounds of daily life. "Scary happens," says School Library Journal. "You deal with it, and then you move on: a good lesson."

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top This? Oddrey and the New Girl by Dave Whammond


Oddrey was always a bit different from the other kids at school.

Other kids just go down the twisty slide. Oddrey slides through a wormhole into another galaxy.

But Oddrey's classmates have learned to appreciate the rhythm of that different drummer, and Oddrey does her part to see that there's never a dull moment in her class.

But then the class gets a new girl--a vivacious but bossy redhead named Maybelline who claims the spotlight with some incredible stories which she shares with relish. To hear her tell it, her dad is a regular Indiana Jones, and the two of them have adventured all over the world, from deep sea treasure dives to the uncovering the lost secrets of cavernous crypts. The class falls for Maybelline's preposterous sagas hook, line, and sinker, and only Oddrey knows hyperbole when she hears it. On the bus ride to the zoo, the other kids' eyes get big at each adventure Maybelline tells, and Oddrey's eyes begin to glaze over. What a bunch of big fibs!

"Is this story really true?" she asked.

"Of course it's true," Maybelline replied. "My dad and I have adventures all the time. See that monkey over there? I'm going to rescue it!"

Maybelline graps a dangling vine and swings into the monkey enclosure, where a rotund monkey is stuck inside his tire swing. Unfortunately, she arrives at the purported rescue tangled up in her vine. Now she and the monkey are both stuck.

But Oddrey, armed only with a purple umbrella, leaps into the fray. She untangles Maybelline and with her umbrella as a lever pops the portly monkey out of the tire.  But now both girls are trapped in the monkey pit.

Thinking quickly, Oddrey grabs her classmate, and shoves the swing into a trajectory that enables her to hook the top of the bars with her umbrella handle. She drags the still speechless Maybelline up a giraffe's neck and over the wall--where they find them on the wrong side of a warthog! Oddrey's inverted umbrella comes in handy to pole vault the two girls out of the compound and back with their class, all agog at what they've just witnessed.

Will Oddrey's derring-do rescue finally put the kibosh on Maybelline's one-upmanship? Sadly, no.

"That was my best adventure YET!" Maybelline said.

Even Oddrey seems temporarily to have met her match in Dave Whammond's latest, Oddrey and the New Kid (OwlKids Books, 2013). Featuring unapologetically cartoonish kids and quick-cut action, this sequel will appeal to fans of Whammond's first book, Oddrey, (see my 2012 review here) and inspire fans to look forward to a third book in which Oddrey perhaps finds a way to upstage her rival.

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Fastest, Fiercest, Most Surprising...: The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins


"When I was six years old, I was given a copy of Life magazine. On the cover was a remarkable illustration of a bird and a tortoise. Inside, I found an article describing Charles Darwin's 1835 voyage to the Gallapagos Islands. The illustrations of marine iguanas, giant tortoises, and blue-footed boobies were fascinating. I cut out the pictures, pasted them into a blank journal, and wrote my own captions."
-- Steve Jenkins

Since that time the happy union of a consuming interest in the animal kingdom and a unique feel for art and book design has led Steve Jenkins to create many benchmark volumes about animals, from his early Caldecott book What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, kid-magnet books such as What Do You Do When Something Wants To Eat You? or Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, and his eye-popping, mind-bending Actual Size.

Now comes Jenkins magnum opus, The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest--and Most Surprising--Animals on Earth (Houghton Mifflin, 2013), which focuses on those superlative examples of the animal world and which  will call forth all the verbal superlatives that reviewers can render--stunning, engrossing, dazzling, endlessly absorbing--all well-earned by Jenkins and co-author Robin Page.  Both a wow-inspiring browsing book for animal enthusiasts, endowed with jewel-like torn-paper collage illustrations of great delicacy and accuracy, and a well-organized reference which can serve students from primary to secondary grades, Jenkin's large format pages show and tell about those "most surprising" animals, from the long-lived tube worm (170 years) and giant barrel sponge (2,300 years!) to the most deadly poisonous sea krait snake, the cone snail, and box jellyfish, to the variety in size, from the extinct megladon shark to the tiny rotifer, half the size of this period.

Jenkins divides the book into discrete chapters--Animals (classification), Family (Reproduction), Animal Senses, Predators, Defenses, Animal Extremes, and The Story of Life--all concluding in a "Facts" section, which feature assorted informational graphics such as time lines, bar graphs, tables, and often use an iconic human to show scale. An extensive appendix, "More Animal Facts," includes thumbnail illustrations and descriptions of the more than 300 animals featured, from African bee to yellow tang, a very inclusive glossary and bibliography, and Jenkins' unique addition for young artists, "Making a Book," which covers the creative process and manufacture of his books.

Those are the facts about the book, but the real impact comes from paging through the book itself, being face to face with a snarling tiger, eyeballs to eyeball (it has only one) with the colossal squid, the world's largest invertebrate, a life-sized Goliath tarantula, or the hand of the gorilla, the largest primate, holding the pygmy lemur, the smallest primate.  Depending upon what he features, Jenkins shows insects as specimens, dorsal-side up,  some animals in profile, some in three-quarters profile, and some, particularly the mammals, in full-face, looking back at us with uncanny scrutiny. Scrupulously arranged in logical sections, with brief captions which capture each animal's uniqueness, The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest--and Most Surprising--Animals on Earth is a book that is more than the sum of its parts, one which leaves the reader with the same awe of the wonder that is the animal kingdom which first inspired the six-year-old author.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Schlimazel Phase: Twerp by Mark Goldblatt


January 11, 1969

My English teacher, Mr. Selkirk, says I have to write something, and it has to be long, on account of the thing that happened over winter recess--which in my opinion, doesn't amount to much. It's not like I meant for Danley to get hurt, and I don't think that what happened was one hundred percent my fault, or even a lot my fault, even though I don't deny that I was there. So I guess I deserved to get suspended like the rest of them.

But now the suspension is over and Selkirk says I've got to write something. I know what's going on. Selkirk thinks that if I write about what happened, I'll understand what happened. Which makes no sense, if you stop and think about it, because if I don't understand what happened, how can I write about it?

I know there's going to be a Julian Twerski in the future that's going to look back and maybe shake his head. (That last sentence should make you happy, Mr. Selkirk.) But when I look back right now, I'm just saying that what happened with Danley Dimmel isn't the worst thing I've done.

As an incentive, Mr. Selkirk offers to substitute Julian's diary for a report on Julius Caesar, and Julian readily agrees, beginning a semester of writing, a first-person stream-of consciousness journaling that recounts the misadventures of Julian (Twerp) Twerski and his friends on the block--Lonnie, their charismatic leader, Quick (because he's slow on the uptake) Quentin, Eric the Red, (because he's a rehead) Howie Wartnose, (because his last name is Wurtzberg), and Schlomo Schlomo (because his mom always calls him home that way.) The gang centers their activities in a scruffy vacant lot they call Ponzini (because it's behind the apartment of Victor Ponzini and because they have to call it something.)

Ponzini is the focal point where most of Julian's misadventures begin.  It's the place where Lonnie taunted him into chucking a rock into an amazingly dense flock of pigeons who have landed there between two rusted out cars.
"C'mon, Julian, chuck a rock."
"You chuck a rock."
"Don't you want to see 'em take off at once?" said Lonnie.
"I might hit one of them," I said.
"C'mon," Lonnie said. "It'll be like a science experiment."

Like most of Lonnie's ideas, it's a bad idea, but despite his own best instincts Julian chunks the rock, hits a pigeon, and is wracked with guilt when the pigeon finally dies. Lonnie's ideas always seem to end badly for the impulsive Julian and the rest of the guys. Quentin gets his eyebrows and most of his hair burned off when the guys pool their leftover Fourth of July fireworks into one big bang. Then Lonnie persuades Julian to ghost-script a letter pitching his love to  Jillian, the girl of his dreams, and with predictable results: Jillian thinks the letter is from Julian and even begins to sit with him at lunch, putting him on the outs with Lonnie. Trying to impress his buddies, Julian smarts off in social studies, not with his regular teacher, Mr. Loeb, who is himself a josher, but the untried intern Mr. Caricone:
It started, I guess, a couple of weeks ago, when he taught us about India.  I like that kind of stuff.... We got real deep into India.
Mr. Caricone began last week's class with the question, "Does anyone remember how the government takes the census in India?"
I called out, "One little, two little, three little Indians!"
The entire class cracked up.

Through it all Julian clings to the belief that, no matter what, he's the fastest kid in the school, until Jillian's family takes in an enormous thirteen-year-old from Guatemala, Eduardo, whose quick moves in games of tag strike fear in Julian as the annual Field Day approaches.  Bad outcomes seem to follow Julian's every move, and as events pile up, one by one his buds start to shun him. When Julian blows a pop quiz at schul,  Rabbi Salzberg sums it up:
"Mazel, by itself, means "luck." Thus, "schlimazel" means "bad luck," the rabbi said.
"Am I a schliemazel?" I asked.
"No, Mr. Twerski, you're just going through a schlimazel phase."

Schliemazel Phase is not a bad term for the temporary insanity that is early adolescence, that critical turning point in the making of the man (or woman), and the key to ending Julian's schliemazel phase seems to be for him to confront his personal responsibility in what happened with Danly Dimmel (a.k.a, Stanley Stimmel) back in December. Julian's last diary entry tells all, in Mark Goldblatt's hit first novel, Twerp (Random House, 2013), with his spot-on depiction of the yin and yang of personal conscience vis a vis group pressure.  Both a drop-dead funny boyhood story and a dead serious coming-of-age novel,  Julian Twerski's self-revelatory diarist holds his own with the great boy characters of literature--Tom Sawyer, Tom Brown, Penrod Schofield, and Holden Caulfield, right up to Jack Gantos' Joey Pigza and various Jacks, and James Patterson's Rafe Khatchadorian. As Kirkus Reviews puts it, "Goldblatt's tale provides a thought-provoking exploration of bullying, personal integrity and self-acceptance."

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Come, Boy! Santiago Stays by Angela Dominguez

"HERE, SANTIAGO!

LOOK WHAT I'VE GOT FOR YOU!"

Most dog owners have to work hard to get their dogs to sit and stay, but this boy has the opposite problem.

Santiago won't move!

Nothing works.  The boy offers his favorite toys and tenders a game of fetch.

Santiago sits.

The boy holds up his blue leash enticingly. Want to take a long walk?  He offers Santiago his favorite sweater to wear.

Santiago simply won't rise to the occasion!

"A YUMMY TREAT?"

Dog treats don't do the trick.  When Santiago won't bite on that, the boy ups the ante with a turkey leg.  How about a hamburger on the side?

Santiago lies down definitively on the mat. This dog is not budging!

Is Santiago a bad dog?  Or is he the world's most loyal guard dog? Kids will find out when the boy's baby sister wakes and begins to wail from her crib in Angela Dominguez' latest, Santiago Stays (Abrams, 2013).  Dominguez, author of Let's Go, Hugo! (see review here) will earn the author-illustrator more fans for her subtly charming style of illustration. Santiago is one of the cutest pups on a mission in all of muttdom, and this story of a dog who does his duty is sure to win the preschool hearts. Kirkus says " Dog lovers and older siblings alike will bask in the quiet humor as they try to solve this gentle canine mystery."

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pachyderm Princess: Cinderelephant by Emma Dodd


ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A GIRL NAMED CINDERELEPHANT.

CINDERELEPHANT LIVED WITH HER TWO COUSINS, WHO WERE KNOWN AS THE WARTY SISTERS. THEY WERE HORRIBLE, MEAN, AND SMELLY.

Despite her imposing size, Cinderelephant is forced to serve as her cousins' handmaiden.  To meet their specifications, she is forced to multitask as only an elephant can, mopping with one hand, cooking with the other, and deftly managing to do the ironing with her trunk, slaving thanklessly while the warthog girls lollygag and mindlessly loaf away the entire day.

But then an invitation arrives that focuses their minds wonderfully.  Heir to the throne Prince Trunky, who finds his kingdom's eligible ladies a bit on the delicate side as dancing partners, is hosting a grand ball, with the clear objective of picking a presumably sturdy consort.  Princess is the operant word of the hour, and despite their lack of pulchritude, the Warty girls proceed to primp up, hoping to trip the light fantastic with the Prince.

Cinderelephant is excited at the princessy prospects, too.

"IF THEY ARE INVITED ALL THE GIRLS," SAID CINDERELEPHANT, "PERHAPS THAT INCLUDES ME!"

"OF COURSE YOU WON'T BE GOING, CINDER-IRRELEVANT!"  LAUGHED THE WARTY SISTERS.

But Cinderelephant has a resource her cousins know not of--her Furry Godmouse,  who magically transforms her dull house dress and everyday shoes into glamorous gown and sparkly pumps and conjures up an appropriately commodious stretch limo as transport to the ball.  Giddy, Cinderelephant, all dolled up for the dance, eagerly hoists her considerable posterior into the plush backseat of her ride.

"BUT, (AND IT WAS A BIG BUT," THE FAIRY GODMOUSE SAID (PUNNINGLY), "YOU MUST BE BACK BY MIDNIGHT."

It's a pleasantly predictable ending to Emma Dodd's latest, Cinderelephant (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013), as the hefty Trunky and his plus-sized princess are at last reunited over  her missing pink pump in traditional style, and as Dodd puts it, "hugely happy ever after." The Cinderella motif is one of the most popular in literature, with its universal themes of orphanhood, sibling rivalry, romance, and the get-rich-quick drive. Author-illustrator Emma Dodd spoofs the bare bones of the old folktale, generously, er, fleshing them out visually while sticking close to the familiar plot, and her artwork, just a bit reminiscent of Babar and Queen Celeste, is as comically captivating as ever in this venture into the fractured fairy tale genre.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Unsnarling the Strands: A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

Mason squinted,. "You certainly are Talented," he told the man.  "Do you..." He searched for his manners. "... sell many knots then?"
"Heavens, no....  It's a horribly useless Talent, tying knots.  But no, I find myself with knot-tying."
"Well, the only knot I've mastered is the one to tie my shoelaces," Mason admitted. "Every other one just looks like a tangled mess to me."
The man in the gray suit thought about that.  "Well, that's the thing about knots, isn't it?" he replied after a moment.  "If you don't know the trick, it's a muddled predicament.  But in fact each loop of every knot is carefully placed, one end twisting right into the other in a way you might not have expected.  I find them rather beautiful, really."

Reading through the twists and turns of Lisa Graff's A Tangle of Knots (Philomel Books, 2013) is rather like untying a knot.  The strands seem hopeless enmeshed, each one disappearing into the knot and reappearing later on the other side, but it the reader follows each piece of puzzle through the knot, prying it from the mass, the individual threads appear.

In Graff's tangled plot, an slightly off-kilter world appears, one in which most people have a special Talent. Orphan Cady's Talent is making the perfect cake to please anyone she meets. Miss Mallory, the head of her children's home, has the Talent to intuit the proper adoptive parents for her charges, with the exception of Cady, which is why she is the sole resident as the story begins. Neighbor Dolores Asher, whose Talent is knitting, fast and fabulously, has three children--Will, whose questionable Talent is for getting lost, Zane, whose only occasionally useful Talent is spitting, and Marigold, one of the Fair, those who are still waiting for their Talents to appear. Then there are the sinister Owner of the Lost Luggage Emporium, who has the Talent to float above the ground, and as is soon revealed, a more sinister Talent for stealing others' Talents, which he keeps in a collection of canning jars, and his kindly delivery man Toby, who is both lonely and Talent-less.

Add to these strands a sometimes-toothpick, sometimes-hairpin, sometimes-priceless dinosaur bone, four vintage baby blue suitcases, the lost recipe for the world's most delicious peanut butter, and the mysterious man in the gray suit who sometimes travels by hot-air balloon with a grin that suggests he knows more about the world than he is letting on, and author Graff has a tangle of beautiful loops to unwind as each person's fate is realized as the knots are undone.  Like untangling a knot, following the twists and turns and loops of this plot take full focus from the reader, but this enchanted knot is well-worth the unwinding for readers who prefer their fantasies populated not by monsters and spirits, but by real persons trying to reconcile their fates with  their own purposes--and finally sorting themselves out to be what they were meant to be all along.

"The magic of Savvy meets the complexity of When You Reach Me in this "blithe magical puzzle," says The Wall Street Journal, citing the notable books by Ingrid Law and Rebecca Stead. Kirkus'  starred review says, "Subtle and intricate, rich with humor and insight, this quietly magical adventure delights."  And as an additional incentive, author Graff includes her well-tested recipes for each of Cady's undeniably delicious-sounding cakes.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Handy Helper: Henry's Hand by Ross McDonald

SOME OF US START OUT WHOLE AND STAY THAT WAY.

HENRY WAS A BITS AND PIECES KIND OF GUY.

ONCE ONE OF HIS EYES ROLLED UNDER THE COUCH AND WOULDN'T COME OUT UNTIL BEDTIME.

After forgetfully leaving his right leg behind in bed one day, Henry is forced to recite a little rhyme to take inventory every morning:

SOME ORGANS AND GLANDS,

TWO VERY NICE HANDS.....

Franken-clone Henry is reasonably attached to all his parts, but his favorite is his right hand.

His right hand is very.... handy!

Henry cultivates his inner couch potato persona while his hand does all the work.  Hand does the chores while Henry snores.  Hand fetches the mail, finger-walking down the walk and across the road to the mailbox. He ever functions  handily as a remote, changing channels for the recumbent Henry. Finally, feeling used, Hand revolts, and before he and Henry go mano a mano, he takes himself on the lam, letting his fingers walk him all the way to the big city.

In town, Hand is enjoying his freedom from manual labor, until he sees a truck bearing down on a hapless man strolling across the street. Quickly, Hand yanks the pedestrian out of the way and a passing reporter manages to snap a photo of the heroic deed.

HERO HAND! screams the headlines.

Soon Hand is a celebrity and he finds himself living in luxury with a staff handy to do everything for him.

HAND DIDN'T HAVE TO LIFT A FINGER!

But back in the country, Henry finds himself a bit short-handed at the chores. And he misses Hand, their intense one-handed marble matches, and his companion in bird-watching.

And meanwhile, in the city, time is hanging heavy on Hand's hand. He is bored and feeling empty-handed as he mopes on the window sill watching a bluebird trying to build her nest in the breeze from the passing trucks. Then his secretary brings in a letter, simply addressed to Hand, City.

Hand decides it time to make amends, to renew his attachment to Henry, in Ross MacDonald's latest, Henry's Hand (Abrams, 2013), and back home he finds Henry seriously in need of a helping hand. There's a bit of clever visual humor throughout in MacDonald's pleasingly art deco illustrations, ending in tidy little surprise ending that pulls the story's, er, loose pieces together as Henry and his missing part go off to visit the bluebird hand-in-hand. "All the parts are in place, as it were, and MacDonald sets them in motion in a mock melodramatic plot that wraps up with a reunion worthy of applause—with both hands," says Publishes Weekly.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Left Behind: Lost Cat by C. Roger Mader

EVER SINCE SLIPPER WAS A TINY KITTEN, SHE'D LIVED WITH A LITTLE OLD LADY IN A LITTLE OLD HOUSE IN A LITTLE OLD TOWN.

LIFE WAS GOOD.

In fact, it's perfect for a cat.  Slipper shares her days with Mrs. Fuzzy Slippers, and at night she sleeps on her own little rug, curled around the lady's fluffy slippers beside her bed.

But then Mrs. Fluffy Slippers has to pack up to move in with her daughter.  Everything in her house in turned topsy turvy and loaded into a van, and in the way of  cats Slipper makes herself inconspicuous.  So, when the moving van pulls away from the little house, Slipper is not in it.

SLIPPER CHASED THE MOVING VAN FOR MILES AND MILES.

FINALLY SHE GOT TIRED AND LOST THE TRAIL.

Although Mrs. Fuzzy Slippers hurries back to look for her, the little house is empty and Slipper is gone.

Slipper spends the coldest night of her life hiding in the woods, but the next morning she resolutely sets out to find a new home, a person to adopt.

She wanders onto a farm, where a sturdy Ms. Muddy Boots feeds her, but when her barky dog chases her out of the farmyard, Slipper knows she has to keep looking.

Mrs. Iron Shoes on her horse clops by, but Slipper is wisely wary of the horse's dangerous-looking feet. Mr. Cowboy Boots at the truck stop invites her into his noisy semi, but the fumes and commotion give her pause. When an over-eager kid, High Tops, makes a grab for her, Slipper flees to the safety of a tree branch above his reach.  Mr. Big Boots strokes her and gives her a lift to town in the saddle bags of his big red motorbike, but Slipper knows that a rip-roaring life on the road is not for her.

But on the sidewalks of the town, Slipper spots a pair of Mary Janes and follows Miss Shiny Shoes home, a home which she discovers is the one she has been looking for all along.

"GRANDMA, LOOK WHO FOLLOWED ME HOME!"

The truth of the old saying that cats choose their people, not the other way around, is the theme of Roger Mader's Lost Cat (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). In a simple, easy-flowing narration, Mader's story is brought to life in his captivating cat's-eye-view illustrations in which Slipper is shown in all her feline charms but humans are only portrayed by their ankles and footgear. The artist uses soft, full-bleed drawings done in pastels to show the texture of the fuzzy slippers and the protagonist kitty's fur to best advantage. But Slipper's supple but subtle body language itself tells the story, in this lost-and-found cat tale that kitty lovers will welcome and which may melt even a dog lover's heart.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lean Pickins': Skeleton for Dinner by Margery Cuyler


ONE DAY BIG WITCH AND LITTLE WITCH DECIDED TO BREW A STEW.

BIG WITCH TOOK A TASTE. "THIS IS SOOOOOO YUMMY!" SHE SAID. "LET'S INVITE OUR FRIENDS FOR DINNER!"

Suddenly the two have a mania for a midnight stew brew bash. Their cauldron is already cooking, so all they need is a guest list. Quikly Little Witch jots down the list and pegs it to a nearby tree.

DINNER LIST

GHOST

GHOUL

SKELETON

Big Witch and Little Witch head off into the night to contact their friends, leaving their cauldron simmering amongst the gravestones. And who should come along but Skeleton.

Skeleton notices the bubbling cauldron and then spots the list on the tree.

"ME? DINNER?

I DON'T WANT TO BE EATEN!"

Skeleton rushes off to warn his friends Ghoul and Ghost about the danger of becoming dinner entrees, and their reaction is predictable.

"OOHHH, NOOOOOO!" THEY HOWL.

Needless to say, Big and Little Witch find their proposed dinner guests pretty scarce for a while, but in Margery Cuyler's Skeleton for Dinner (Albert Whitman, 2013), all's well that ends well when this little idiomatic misunderstanding is finally cleared up and Ghost, Ghoul, and Skeleton arrive for dinner bearing a beautiful bouquet of poison ivy for their lovely hostesses. Soup's on!

Margery Cuyler is a veteran writer with many classic holiday picture books on her publications list, and in this delightful little wordplay tale, she is assisted ably by Will Terry, whose sight gags and appealing deep blue-hued illustrations add the appropriate spoofy-spooky ambience and whose witches, ghost, ghoul, and skeleton are safely on the non-scary side for primary readers.

For a pair of holiday storytime treats, pair this new one with Cuyler's top-selling killer-diller rib-tickling skeleton tale, Skeleton Hiccups (see my review here) for a drop-dead good time.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Holy Unanticipated Occurences! Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Flora Belle Buckman admits that she is a cynic.

She has her reasons.

One of Flora's very favorite bonus comics was entitled TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! As a cynic, Flora found it wise to be prepared. Who knew what horrible, unpredictable thing would happen next?

After all, a terrible thing has already happened to Flora. Her parents have suddenly divorced, her mother is cranky and distant, wanting only for Flora to make herself scarce while she writes her romance novels, and her dad is living in a small apartment too far away for Flora to walk for a visit. Still, Flora hasn't quite lost her belief that amazing things can happen the way they do in her Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! comics, and Flora is right to believe.

It all begins when her neighbor lady Tootie Tickham receives a truly horrible birthday gift from her husband, the towering Ulysses Super-Suction Multi-Terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner, which on its maiden voyage zooms out her backdoor and sucks up an innocent foraging squirrel, right up to his tail. The heroic Flora switches into superhero mode herself and provides mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the squirrel. The squirrel revives, minus part of his fur, but with some seemingly super-squirrel powers. Flora names him Ulysses, in honor of his change agent.

"I'm going to try and explain what happened to you, okay?"

Ulysses nodded his head very fast.

"What happened is that you got vacuumed. And because you got vacuumed, you might have, um, powers"

Ulysses gave her a questioning look. "Do you know what a superhero is?"

Flora looked down at Ulysses. Considering the human beings she was surrounded by, believing in a squirrel seemed like an increasingly reasonable plan of action.


Ulysses is super strong, he can fly, and he has a fondness for typing original poetry.  But those super powers are not what Flora Belle Buckman thinks she wants, but in his way, Ulysses has just the powers--Holy unanticipated consequences--she needs to get her mother to love her and her father again, restore vision to Tootie's "temporarily blind" nephew William Spiver, also "temporarily" traumatized by his mother, along the way. Although Ulysses' main motivation is to find and eat a giant donut, in terribly funny and truly poignant adventures this super squirrel manages to restore love and understanding  to Flora's family.  Along the way, Flora loses her cynicism and Ulysses achieves all the donuts he desires.

As her father, George Buckman remarks,

"Holy Bagumba!" The universe was expanding.

Multiple Newbery winner Kate DiCamillo (for Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread)) has in her latest, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, 2013), a sweet, fantasy-tinged comedic novel,  occasionally illustrated in artful cartoon panels, that is further proof that DiCamillo is a master tale-spinner.  Flora is a delightful character whose cynicism and belief that Terrible Things Can Happen is shaken by some truly fantastic unanticipated consequences of a runaway all-terrain vacuum cleaner that change everything.  As Kirkus Reviews writes, " An original, touching and oh-so-funny tale starring an endearingly implausible superhero and a not-so-cynical girl."

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Know the Numbers: Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates

DOG LOVED BOOKS.

HE LOVED READING THEM LATE INTO THE NIGHT AND DIDN'T LIKE TO LEAVE THEM FOR VERY LONG.

But even with books, there can be too much of a good thing. Dog needs more sleep, but counting the customary sheep doesn't do it.

Being an eager reader, Dog turns to his animal book to find some more sleep-inducing  animals to count.  He finds a page with one big egg on it.  He's on his way to counting himself to sleep. Except that something exciting happens--the egg hatches out into a baby dodo.

"BABY DODO, WE ARE TWO!"

Persistent page-turning soon reveals the perfect number 3 animal,  the three-toed sloth!  A turn of the page shows a camel. Camels have four legs, so that's easy to remember, and then there's the five-lined skink, and the sleepy-time count is on its way.

In short order Dog has found a fly with six legs, a raccoon with seven stripes, a spider with eight legs, and a nine-banded  armadillo.  But ten is hard: nothing has ten bands or ten legs that he can find, until he sees the picture of a crab--with eight legs plus two claws!  It's one to ten and back again!

At last the countdown to bedtime is ready to begin:

ADVENTURES WERE NEVER FAR AWAY--HE COULD COUNT ON IT! 

Louis Yates continues Dog's education in her third book, Dog Loves Counting (Knopf, 2013), with the same soft palette and mellow illustrations that made her other popular books in the series, Dog Loves Books and Dog Loves Drawing, winners. Publishers Weekly says, "Yates’s loose drawings give the animals personality to spare as Dog proves that the right story can be a ticket to dreamland—and that there’s plenty of fun to be had there."

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Don't Knock There! Beware the Haunted House


WHAT'S IN THAT WINDOW?  IT'S DARK IN THERE!

WHAT IS IT, YOU WONDER.   PEEK IN IF YOU DARE!

There are a lot of beasties who go bump in the night on Halloween, most of them potentially scary to tots and preschoolers. Werewolves and witches at the door! Frankenstein and vampires ringing the bell! Outside on the sidewalk Cinderella holds hands with a ghost, and all of them leap and skip and make funny noises!

Some holiday board books can help mediate the Halloween scene, books which introduce the cast of characters that roam on All Hallow's Eve, and some like Beware the Haunted House (SmartKidz Media, 2013) have a part to play in this holiday. With a Press Here button available on each page to provide the background sound for each page--with flashing lights, howls, and kids giggling at the fun of a small fright--youngsters can experience a preview of the event in advance. And for tots too tiny to make the trek outside with the older tricksters, this book provides a hands-on treat for little apprentice spooks to ease the transition from shake and shiver to treat giver.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Are We There Yet? Is This Panama? A Migration Story by Jan Thornhill

WHEN SAMMY WOKE UP, HIS TOES WERE COLDER THAN THEY'D EVER BEEN BEFORE. EVEN THOUGH IT WAS STILL AUGUST, FROST TWINKLED AND SPARKLED ON EVERY LEAF OF HIS HOME NEAR THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.

SAMMY SHIVERED, PARTLY BECAUSE HE WAS COLD AND PARTLY BECAUSE HE WAS EXCITED. IF IT WAS THIS COLD, IT MUST BE TIME FOR HIM TO MAKE HIS FIRST MIGRATION TO PANAMA.

Fledgling Sammy wakes with the nagging feeling he's supposed to be somewhere else. Maybe Panama, where all the Wilson warblers go to winter? But as he looks around and sees no one of his flock, he realizes that ship has sailed!

It's definitely catch-up time for Sammy. Ptarmigan is no help in the GPS department, pointing out that he's not an insect eater and plans to winter over with the help of his white feathers which make him invisible in the frost and snow. But a passing caribou, heading for the lichen-covered forest floors further south, offers an observation.

"I DON'T LIKE LICHENS." SAID SAMMY. "I LIKE INSECTS."

"THEN YOU'D BETTER KEEP GOING. I HAVEN'T SEEN AN INSECT ALL DAY!"

But where exactly is Panama? Sammy hitches a ride with some sandhill cranes headed toward Texas who show him the landmarks they use to find their way. Then Sammy meets up with hundreds of dragonflies flying south along the coast, but speedy Sammy soon leaves them behind. Finally Sammy meets up with a cousin, a redstart warbler.

"IS THIS PANAMA?" HE ASKS.

"DON'T I WISH!" TWITTERED THE REDSTART.

His cousin invites him along on a night flight and shows him how to fly by the stars, but when the flock flaps over the lights of a huge city, the novice Sammy gets confused and crash lands into the window of a skyscraper. He recovers quickly, but the warblers are gone and he has to take advice from a strange group of fellow travelers--monarch butterflies, humpback whales, and even a Hudsonian godwit on his way to Patagonia--all of them headed south but none of them exactly bound for Panama. But island-hopping across the Bahamas with a flock of strangers, he heads across a short stretch of ocean, and when they stop to look for food, Sammy feels so tired that, hungry as he is after three weeks on the wing, he hasn't the heart even to hop around. But then Sammy gets a funny feeling about this place.

SAMMY SUDDENLY FELT ALL QUIVERY INSIDE.

Sammy had finally found his home away from home, in Jan Thornhill's Is This Panama?: A Migration Story (OwlKids Books, 2013). Thornhill manages to build quite a bit of page-turning tension into her story of Sammy the solitary wanderer, but the main premise of the book is the wondrous ways of animal migration. In this autumn-centered concept book each animal encountered reveals his own migratory reason and destination as they try to help Sammy find his own. Illustrator Soyeon Kim's artwork is picture perfect, using glowing full color nature paintings, occasionally interspersed with monochromatic drawings, especially in the appealing illustration of the weary Sammy hopping a lift on a slightly out-of-the-way humpback, riding high on the whale's big head.

Appended are color-illustrated thumbnails of the various animals covered, with sepia-tones assorted warblers decorating the endpapers, a map of the warbler clans and Sammy's offbeat routes, and a detailed explanation of "How Animals Migrate," using the sun, stars, landmarks, magnetic fields, and sense of smell for further information and review, making this little book a dandy read-aloud and resource choice for units on animal migration, a story told from the viewpoint of a doughty little hero who does what has to be done and shares his life's journey with his readers. Booklist loves this primary concept book, saying, "Kim’s illustrations, a mix of line drawings, paintings, and cut paper collage, are full of movement, color, and texture, offering up wonderfully varied landscapes and scenes that suggest three dimensions. Together, the text and images help make sense of a few of nature’s curiosities. A truly educational journey."

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Our Place in Space! Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond by David A. Aguilar

The discoveries astronomers make sometimes change the way we think about ourselves and our place in the universe.

In the next 25 years we may know the answers of these really big questions: What caused the Big Bang? What invisible force is speeding up the expansion of the universe? Are there other universes out there besides our own? What type of life exists on other planets?

And kids now in the middle school years will be the scientists who participate in answering these big questions! For a good start toward that role David A. Aguilar's Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond (National Geographic Kids)(National Geographic, 2013) provides science-smitten middle readers with a solid discussion and eye-catching illustrations that offer the latest information on our own solar system, from the orbit of Mercury all the way out to Oort Cloud on the border of deep space.

With ample color illustrations, from insets to double-page spreads, Aguilar begins with his chapter "What We Know" at the known beginning, the Big Bang, and the formation of solar system objects, asteroids, comets, and planets, from the resulting space dust.  Continuing outwardly, there are chapters titled "Tour of the Solar System," "To the Stars and Beyond," "Are We Alone?" and "Dreams of Tomorrow." With lots of little-known facts and citations  of the findings of various space probes,  from the manned Apollo missions through Explorer 1 in 1958, Mariner 4, the Viking Landers, Voyagers I and II, the COBE satellite, Magellan, the Hubble Telescope, the Mars Rovers, Cassini, and the New Horizons (flyby of Pluto),  Aguilar covers the basic information, the hot topics, and still unanswered questions of space science in a conversational tone and in a straightforward style that never talks down to his readers, filling them in on new knowledge and  firing their curiosity to know more.

For research paper writers, this book should be the first go-to source: it offers a reference-user's dream of an appendix, with timelines--a Timeline of the Solar System, Timeline of Humans on Earth,  and a Timeline of Astronomy--and an ample glossary of terms and an index with indicates pages with illustrations in boldface.  For browsing, school report writing, and general information for the science buff, this book is great for library or home reference shelves, and a great birthday or holiday gift for science-loving young people.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Big Blue Monster:Bright Baby Noisy Monsters by Roger Priddy

BOB'S FIFTH EYE HAS SPOTTED SOMETHING SCARY IN THE LAKE!

A bunch of monsters are out for fun, each in his own way. Baxter, with one eye, heads out to the moon to visit three-eyed Freddy.  Chester loves to play the bongos, while Zac, who has lots of feet to tap, shows off  his shuffle-ball-change.

Then they all meet up with Bruno, Trixie, and Mike, who like to throw snowballs at their friends. But wait! There's more! Max, Zoe, and Bob, with five eyes each, spot an old favorite, Nessie, out in the lake.

It's an admittedly adorable bunch of creatures assembled in Roger Priddy's  board book, Bright Baby Noisy Monsters (St. Martin's Press), equipped with a big green button to press and trigger recorded monster giggles at the antics of this strange cast of characters. For the very youngest baby spooks on Halloween, pair this one with Fiona Watt's tactile board book, That's Not My Monster (Touchy-Feely Board Books) for a couple of treats for tots too little to go out on Halloween.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Operation Photo Op: Picture Day Perfection by Deborah Diesen

IT'S FINALLY PICTURE DAY. THE DAY THAT WILL BE FROZEN IN TIME FOREVER.

I HAD PLANNED FOR MONTHS. THIS WAS GOING TO BE THE YEAR OF THE PERFECT SCHOOL PICTURE.

But the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley, says poet Robert Burns, which translated means that things can always go to heck in a handbasket, and that's just what happens to this young photo op opportunist.

He wakes up with a world-class case of bedhead.  His favorite shirt, recovered from the bottom of the laundry hamper, is wrinkled and stained, and that's before Mom's "Picture Day Breakfast" pancake syrup squooshes all over it.  He gets in trouble with the bus driver and has to sit in the solitary seat right behind him, which doesn't improve his mood or his smile.

With his scowl already in place, the school day doesn't improve his countenance. It seems his mom has checked "Traditional Grey" for the background of his photo. Who doesn't look better surrounded by battleship gray, right?  "Smile Practice" in homeroom is an irresistible opportunity to get in trouble for our little lad, but he is out of timeout just in time for Art, where the teacher has, in a moment of brilliant lesson planning, chosen this day as the one for learning to use tempera paints, with predictable results. And when the class finally arrives for their photo shoot, the complimentary combs run out before they get to him, so his bedhead set is still intact. Even the stool he has to pose on is iceberg cold and hard.

Nothing is going according to plan.

Or is it?

EVERYTHING THAT HAD HAPPENED RUSHED THROUGH MY MIND. THE MONSTROUS MESSES, THE MUDDLES, AND THE MIX-UPS.

THE WHOLE DAY, FROM THE MOMENT I HAD ROLLED OUT OF BED, HAD GONE... PERFECTLY. EVEN BETTER THAN I HAD PLANNED.

Perfect. Our boy just has to smile at the fortuitous execution of his grand scheme.

Click.

Author Deborah Diesen and artist Dan Santat have a lot of fun messing with our minds in their latest, Picture Day Perfection (Abrams, 2013). Sympathy for this little school picture sufferer quickly turns to laughs as our photo subject's attempts at photo sabotage come out a mother's dream of picture day perfection.  Santat's patently goofy illustrations are kid pleasers par excellence, sure to stir up  their due shares of giggles with the surprise ending.

MOM SAYS IT'S MY BEST PICTURE EVER.

BUT JUST WAIT TILL SHE SEES NEXT YEAR'S!

"Santat's Photoshop illustrations have a polish that heightens the immediacy of the moment. This tale of a young Wisenheimer is plenty crafty and features a satisfyingly fitting requital,"  remarks Kirkus Reviews.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Picture That! The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerson


Some of the oldest drawings ever found were made more than 30,000 years ago in a cave in southern France.

In that same cave there was a footprint of an eight-year-old child.
The juxtaposition of that child's footprint and that paleolithic drawing is the jumping-off point for Mordicai Gerstein's elegant picture book which imagines that first human artist picking up a burnt stick from the edge of the fire and creating the first human art.

But before there is art, there must be an artist, someone who could see what is real in his mind and imagine reproducing it as a painting, and  in Gerstein's telling of it, he is a young boy who loves to watch animals, with his wolf dog at his heels,  looking at a distant woolly mammoth and seeing the shape of that beast in the changing clouds above him.

No one else "sees" what he sees in the clouds and in the shapes of the rocks around him.

"Papa! That cloud looks like a woolly mammoth!"
"It looks like a cloud to me," says his father. "Like a cloud."
"Why can't they see what I see?" the boy wonders.
At night the shadows of the dancing flames from the fire circle looks like running horses to the boy, but although no one else sees  the galloping herd, the boy picks up a charcoal stick and following the curves of the rocky wall, begins to sketch out the shape of one, and then many running horses. The family look at each other and chuckle at the play of this curious child, but then, as he fills in his drawing with a husky, tusky mammoth, someone sees something familiar there.  It is a mammoth.
"This.... is magic!"
"No, Papa. I'm just showing you...."
Caldecott Medalist Mordecai Gerstein (for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers) captures that moment in time which someone, perhaps a child, made the enormous intellectual leap from something visualized in the mind to a concrete, created thing that others can see  and someone can use.  All human creation comes from a personal mental image that is reproduced in the material world, from a carefully shaped spear point to the internet, and Gerstein uses his immense artistic talent as a visual storyteller to take the young reader along to witness such an event.  Using parallel characters, a modern boy with his dog trailing behind and his drawing pencils in his back pocket and the cave boy with his shaggy wolf-pup and his burnt stick, Gerstein takes the modern reader back into a distant historic time, but the same place in the modern mind from which a child artist takes up a crayon to draw a car or an airplane.
"And it's still MAGIC!" says the author.

Gerstein's  latest, The First Drawing (Little, Brown, 2013), displays the artist's skill with word and art, his fine draftsmanship and his skillful use of media, blackline and acrylics, to give a feeling of movement, light and shadows, to the dusky depths of the cave and its walls which provide a canvass for the beginnings of art itself. "Artists see the world differently, but Gerstein suggests their true gift lies in allowing others to share in their visions," says Publishers Weekly. "Solid storytelling, satisfying narrative circularity, and masterful, creative illustrations make this an inspiring story for young artists," adds Kirkus Reviews, and Children's Literature calls it , "another must buy for real library and pre-school and lower grades use."

Gerstein's illustrated author's note provides more of the story of the discovery of  stone age cave art  in those caves of France, making this book a good one to pair with another Caldecott winner's, Emily Arnold McCully's The Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux.

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