Friday, January 31, 2014

Heart-y Story: Baby Penguins Love Their Mama by Melissa Guion

Mama Penguin is pooped!

A flock of baby penguins to feed and teach is tiring!

Monday there are swimming lessons for the brood, and Tuesday it's time for sliding on their stomachs. Wednesday brings waddling lessons, and on Thursday, it's time for a tutorial on preening those ruffled feathers, not exactly the fledglings' favorite!

Friday brings fishing lessons, with lots of fun, but Saturday is squawking day, which would give any mom a headache!


While Mama dozes on the ice floe, what do her little ones do? They prepare a surprise, with streamers and hearty hearts which bespeak their appreciation for Mama!

Mama is proud and promises them (and herself) that they will soon be able to do everything big penguins can do.


The baby penguins proudly hold up the big, streamer-decked snow heart they have made for her.


Penguins are popular in picture books these days, and Melissa Guion reprises her popular polar setting in the sequel to her piquant 2012 penguin flash mob story, Baby Penguins Everywhere! (see my review here) in her brand-new heart-y tale, Baby Penguins Love their Mama (Philomel, 2014). Guion makes the most of alliterative text, and her juxtaposition of the baby penguin's rainbow streamers and big blue heart against the black and white of their feathers and the snowy landscape are most pleasing to the eye. With a sympathetically humorous nod to mamas, sitters, and teachers everywhere, these stories make a perfect penguin pair for the holiday season.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Love Potion Number Mine!: Strega Nona Does It Again by Tomie dePaola

Dear Cousin Strega Nona,

As you know, our oldest daughter Angelina has grown into quite a beauty, which is wonderful and terrible all at once. All the young men leave flowers and gifts and sing love songs--a nuisance! All except Hugo. Angelina claims she is in love with him, but he doesn't even seem to notice. I think the only solution for her is to leave our village until she forgets Hugo.

Duke Andre di Limone and Wife

P.S. I want to warn you that Angelina is a handful!

Angelina shows up with mountains of luggage and the expectation of being catered to every moment. Strega Nona gives up her tidy little room to Angelina, but the girl is not pleased.

"I don't like this room.

My room at home is blue with pink flowers!"

Strega Nona tries to be hospitable to her visiting cousin, but it's not easy. Angelina commandeers her helpers so that Strega Nona finds herself stuck with all the chores. Bambalona, the baker's daughter, considers herself practically an artisan, at the least an independent contractor, and is miffed to find herself declared chamber maid, doing Angelina's hair and dressing her in assorted finery. Big Anthony, appointed footman, discovers that that means he fetches and carries, which he is used to, but also discovers that he has to wear a fancy uniform and silly hat all day to do it. Angelina orders both of them to paint Strega Nona's bedroom blue with giant pink flowers, and then instructs Bambalona to construct a shrine for Hugo outside, a mirror surrounded by fresh flowers arranged daily.

Bored, Angelina summons Bambalona and Big Anthony to escort her to pay social calls on everyone in the village. As her retinue approaches the town, she commands a small boy to run ahead and announce her arrival in the public square. She is overbearing and rude to everyone, even the sisters in the convent. The imperious Angelina can't leave too soon for the residents of the rustic little village.

"Povre mei!" (Poor me!), moans Strega Nona.

But as always, Strega Nona has a plan. She writes her cousin the Duke to come for Angelina and by any means to be sure to bring Hugo along. Then, in her office as good witch of the village, she brews up a love potion which she promises will work and advises Angelina to drink it just before Hugo is shown to his shrine.

Hugo gazes at his magnificent reflection, with Angelina by his side, and suddenly gets the picture.

"You understand me!" he says. "Will you marry me?"

With sighs of relief and happy cries of "Arrivaderci, Angelina!" at last, Strega Nona, Bambalona, and Big Anthony watch the diLimones and Hugo depart together to prepare for the wedding.

"They deserve each other!" said Strega Nona.

"They are both in love with themselves."

Tomie dePaola does it again in his latest wise and witty tale of his kindly but shrewd character, Strega Nona Does It Again (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013), a series begun in 1973 with his Caldecott Honor Book, Strega Nona. DePaola's watercolor and acrylic illustrations are as humorous and vivid as ever, and Strega Nona, homely but wise in the ways of the world, is an unforgettable character. Love is always in season, and this is a fine little parable for Valentine's Day or any time. As Publishers Weekly puts it, "A wryly funny story of love and entitlement, with all the homey charm that dePaola’s fans expect and love."

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Now Entering Cutesville: Love Monster by Rachel Bright



It's not hard to see why this hairy little red monster is feeling blue. Somehow he's wandered into a place where he is obviously the odd one out. The sign at the edge of town tells it all.

***Home of the Fluffy***

Although the lavender heart on his sleeve proclaims that Monster's lookin' for love, this town looks like all the wrong places. Everything is pink or violet, and everyone is fluffy!  Monster is red and... yuk! HAIRY! With his bulgy eyes and visible fangs, Monster realizes that this town's idea of cute is just not in the cards for him

Still he doesn't give up his search to find someone like him to love him.


For a moment he thinks he's spotted a soul mate--someone similarly hirsute, but it turns out to be his own reflection.  Then it begins to rain, looking dark and scary. Monster's search is clearly NOT going well!

But in Rachel Bright's brand-new Love Monster (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2013), there is at least one other hairy monster in the BIG WIDE WORLD, and Monster finds out that there are sweet surprises out there when "love finds you."  Bright's little Monster may not be fluffy, but in illustrator Bright's distinctive artwork, he is quite cute enough for Cutesville.   This is a heartfelt story of finding your place in the world with a theme that kids will get right away.  Publishers Weekly says, "Bright has a brisk but sympathetic voice that’s appealingly British, and her visual pacing is impeccable."

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

... And the Winners Are... 2014 Newbery and Caldecott Medals Awarded

The American Library Association has released the winners of this year's young people's book awards. The Newbery Award, for books written for young readers, has gone to Kate DiCamillo for her novel Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, 2013). (See my review here.) DiCamillo is a past winner of this award for her The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread and the Newbery Honor Award for Because of Winn-Dixie.

Four Newbery Honor Books were also named: Holly Black's Doll Bones (Simon & Schuster, 2013), previous winner Kevin Henkes' The Year of Billy Miller (Greenwillow Books, 2013) (see my review here), Amy Timberlake's One Came Home (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), and Vince Vawter's Paperboy (Delacorte Press, 2013).

Taking the Caldecott Award for the best-illustrated book for children is Brian Floca for his Locomotive (Atheneum, 2013). Caldecott Honors went to  Journey (Candlewick, 2013), written and illustrated by Aaron Becker, to Molly Idle's Flora and the Flamingo (Chronicle Books, 2013), and the multiple Caldecott-winning David Wiesner for Mr. Wuffles! (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2013 (see my review here.)

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for beginning reader books went to The Watermelon Seed (Hyperion, 2013), written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (read my review here), with Geisel Honor Awards going to Mary Sullivan's Ball (Houghton Mifflin, 2013), frequent award-winner Mo Willems for his A Big Guy Took My Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) (Hyperion, 2013) (see review here), and Kevin Henkes' Penny and Her Marble (I Can Read Book 1) (Greenwillow, 2013).

Other ALA awards include the following:

Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:
“P.S. Be Eleven,” written by Rita Williams-Garcia, is the King Author Book winner. The book is published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Three King Author Honor Books were selected: “March: Book One,” written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell, and published by Top Shelf Productions; “Darius & Twig,” written by Walter Dean Myers and published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; and “Words with Wings,” written by Nikki Grimes and published by WordSong, an imprint of Highlights.

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award:
“Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me,” illustrated by Bryan Collier, is the King Illustrator Book winner. The book was written by Daniel Beaty and published by Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group.
One King Illustrator Honor Book was selected: “Nelson Mandela,” illustrated and written by Kadir Nelson and published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award:
“When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop,” illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, is the Steptoe winner. The book is published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership.

Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement:
Authors Patricia and Researcher Fredrick McKissack are the winners of the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. The award is presented in even years to an African American author, illustrator or author/illustrator for a body of his or her published books for children and/or young adults, and who has made a significant and lasting literary contribution.
 Patricia McKissack and her late husband Fredrick McKissack, both natives of Tennessee, began their writing and research partnership in the 1980’s.Their subject matter from family-based folklore to nonfiction titles, are scholarly researched and written with accurate, authentic text, creating a cultural transmission of history. Their immense range of topics are informative, readable and enjoyable, covering accounts from slavery days to biographical studies of noted men and women in African American history past and present.

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults:
“Midwinterblood,” written by Marcus Sedgwick, is the 2014 Printz Award winner. The book is published by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
Four Printz Honor Books also were named: “Eleanor & Park,” written by Rainbow Rowell and published by St. Martin’s Griffin (Macmillan); “Kingdom of Little Wounds,” written by Susann Cokal and published by Candlewick Press; “Maggot Moon,” written by Sally Gardner, illustrated by Julian Crouch and published by Candlewick Press; and “Navigating Early,” written by Clare Vanderpool and published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, Penguin Random House Company.

Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience:
“A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin,” written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. wins the award for children ages 0 to 10.
“Handbook for Dragon Slayers,” written by Merrie Haskell and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, is the winner of the middle-school (ages 11-13) award.
The teen (ages 13-18) award winner is “Rose under Fire,” written by Elizabeth Wein and published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group.

Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences:

 “Brewster,” written by Mark Slouka and published by W. W. Norton & Company
“The Death of Bees,” written by Lisa O’Donnell and published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
“Golden Boy: A Novel,” written by Abigail Tarttelin and published by ATRIA Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
“Help for the Haunted,” written by John Searles and published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
“Lexicon: A Novel,” written by Max Barry and published by The Penguin Group, Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
“Lives of Tao,” written by Wesley Chu and published by Angry Robot, a member of the Osprey Group
“Mother, Mother: A Novel,” written by Koren Zailckas and published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
“Relish,” written by Lucy Knisley and published by First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership
“The Sea of Tranquility: A Novel,” written by Katja Millay and published by ATRIA Paperback, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
“The Universe Versus Alex Woods,” written by Gavin Extence and published by Redhook Books, an imprint of Orbit, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in children's video:
Paul R. Gagne and Melissa Reilly Ellard of Weston Woods Studios, Inc., producers of “Bink &Gollie: Two for One,” are the Carnegie Medal winners. The video’s cast is anchored by Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome, with music by David Mansfield. Tony Fucile’s artwork is brilliantly brought to life by Chuck Gammage Animation.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Try to See It My Way! Pete the Cat: Valentine's Day Is Cool by Kimberly and James Dean

Who doesn't like Valentine's Day?

Pete the Cat.


But Pete can't resist the sincerity in Callie Cat's big blue eyes when she proclaims


Irresistible! Pete is a convert to Valentine's Day and all it entails, especially making personalized, homemade cards for each of their friends. Once on it, Pete's usual enthusiasm takes over as he designs sports-themed cards for all his buddies, each one with the friend's favorite sports equipment featured! Pete worries that, because of his late start, he'll never get all of them done, but Mom just tells him to do his best and stay with it, and working with Callie, Pete finally has a stack for everyone in his class--or so he thinks.

But when Pete arrives at Callie's house for her big party, he has a thought that freezes him motionless at Callie's door. He's forgotten to make one for his holiday hostess! Is Pete about to be the least-cool cat at Callie's Valentine's Day party?

Kimberly and James Dean's Pete the Cat: Valentine's Day Is Cool (Harper, 2013) catches the usually upbeat Pete in a rare (and brief) moment of negativity as it helps Pete fans celebrate Callie's favorite day. For kids for whom that mushy stuff is not so cool, this Pete title pushes the point that it's a day to appreciate all friends for their unique personalities. As an extra sweetener, this Pete book contains a tear-out set of Pete-themed Valentine's Day cards on sturdy stock, a poster, and a sheet of stickers to use with the Valentines.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Winging It: Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton




But sometimes it was a drag, especially when her arms trailed so far behind her that of necessity she always had to be the last in line behind Mama Hen.

The other barnyard animals were less than kind in their observations about her peculiarity. Even the pigs laughed at her.

On the other hand, she like having hands at the ends of her arms, hands that enabled her to climb trees, while he sibling chicks were still flapping their stubby little wings uselessly. Instead of pecking up bugs on the hoof, Henny could pick up dainty insect morsels with her chopsticks. The possibilities were endless--from hailing a cab downtown to piloting her own plane.

Henny also found that she could lend a hand around the farm. She helped feed the cows, and much to their consternation, milk them, too! She was handy at finding eggs hidden in the henhouse, and once when Mr. Farmer dropped one, Henny just reached up and caught it. Henny was a life-saving hero!

In her first first picture book, Henny (Paula Wiseman Books) (Simon & Schuster, 2014), Elizabeth Rose Stanton has a rather eggs-centric character in Henny, whose eggstraordinarily ambidexterous abilities make for some wry illustrations (Henny checking her armpits to see if she needs deodorant or worrying about hangnails and tennis elbow), even as she daydreams of all the amazing things-- trapeze artist?--that her arms and hands allow her to do.

After all, if pigs can fly, why can't Henny have a manicure?


Saturday, January 25, 2014

In the Beginning.... : Once Upon a Memory by Nana Laden



Snug in his room with his toy animals around him, the window open to the soft, warm air, a boy notices a downy feather floating by and his thoughts turn to the beginnings of things.

Things as they are now were once something else. Does a statue know that it used to be just a hunk of stone?  Does the sea remember when it was just rain?

Thoughts turn to his own world.  His family, now three, was once just two--two separate strangers.  Someday he will not be a child. Will he remember his early self thinking about his future self?

Thinking about the nature of being and time and the memory which links the past, present, and future is pretty deep stuff for a picture book, but in her newest, Once Upon a Memory (Little, Brown, 2013), author Nina Laden uses comfortable rhyming couplets, a form that is soothes rather than disturbs, making the concept of transitions in the material world seem to flow forth naturally. In this task, she draws upon the art of Renata Liwska (The Quiet Book). Liwska's pencil illustrations, done in soft, smudgy line, delicately cross-hatched shadings, and muted color accents, show the main character safe with his animals and ease the reader into free-form thoughts of time and transition.  Difficult concepts made easy in the confluence of text and art.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Danger at the Door?: Who Goes There? by Karma Wilson



His nest is cozy. Wooden chairs with plump blue cushions are pulled up to his little table, and a folksy green china cabinet shows off his white dishes with blue flowers. There are acorns and a few pumpkins and squash on hand for the winter, and a sturdy cask lid forms a stout wooden door to keep him safe inside his hollow-tree home. What's missing?

Well, it certainly isn't the slightly sinister noise that Lewis suddenly hears outside.


Lewis is a doughty and manly mouse, but the noise was sudden and it was scary. Lewis shivers, but he puts on a brave front and shouts right back:


It's quiet for a moment, and then he hears it again, even louder and closer. Could it be a hunting owl? A hungry marauding bear? Some sneaky, creepy cat?

Lewis screws up his courage, He lights his lantern, opens his door, and peers into the darkness. Whatever it is doesn't show itself. Growing angry, he bellows as loudly as he can, "WHO GOES THERE?"

Then he hears a small voice, a voice small enough to be another mouse.


Lewis meets his next-door neighbor, named Joy, and his nest suddenly seems complete in Karma Wilson's newest, Who Goes There? (Margaret K. Elderry Books, 2013). Wilson, best-selling author of the Bear Snores On books, knows how to build the tension with each suspicious scritch-scratch in this comforting re-working of the "danger at the door" premise, and artist Anna Currey's charming but nervous little Lewis can't quite settle down for a long winter's nap until his mystery is solved. Storyline and illustration style blend seamlessly in this story of friendship found when least expected. As School Library Journal sums it up succinctly, "While steady tension pulls the story forward, it’s really more of a showcase for Currey’s handsome watercolor-and-ink drawings, which portray both actual nature and anthropomorphized animal life in the classic British style."

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lights! Camera! Action! Learn to Speak Film by Michael Glassbourg

Years and years ago, when humans were mostly hunters and gatherers, people would sit around a campfire and someone would tell a story.

Story was the thing that brought people together--how the band of hunters brought down the mammoth now roasting on the fire, how the berry pickers escaped from the bear--these were their adventure stories. And the flickering shadows from the fire gave rise to tales of ghosts and the spirits that might surround them.

What event today can have five hundred people assembled in a dark room for two hours or more except to spontaneously laugh, cry, scream, or mumble "Wow!" A film, of course.

If the performing arts began with story, the theater is our cave, and the movie is our shadows on the wall. Michael Glassbourg's Learn to Speak Film: A Guide to Creating, Promoting, and Screening Your Movies (Owlkids Books, 2013) brings together a taste of the history and craft of filmmaking. The three elements--story, or script, pictures or photos, and motion, film--are set forth, with the skills, talents, and pooling of crafts that turns a story into film--are discussed in some detail in five chapters: Through a Lens; From Ideas to Script; Lights, Camera, Action; Postproduction; and lastly Getting It Out There.

Glassbourg's opening section takes the young would-be moviemaker through the basic steps, learning to see first through a still camera's lens and then through the video camera, how to arrange sets, costumes, and "the talent," performers who act out the story, and the editing, and screening of their short film.

Then the author focuses on the "professional sound stage" and the many skilled writers, performers, and craftsmen who bring an idea through the script-writing, casting, set or location choices, set, costume, and makeup design, music scoring, and rehearsals, all production processes which much be completed or in progress before the cameras are ever turned on. Then the real work of the director, or directors, begins, with placement of the actors, camera angles, lighting, sound quality, and most of all the management of the "talent," the actors who must play the roles of the characters in the story to be filmed. And even when the raw film takes are "in the can" and the "wrap party" is catered, the job is only half-finished.

What follows is the craft, art, and talent of postproduction--film editing, continuity editing, sound balancing, dialog redubbing, and special and sound effects--all major jobs involving many artists and craftsmen with different specialties. Who knew, for example, that continuity editors go to work scrutinizing every shot in every scene, looking for flubs, such as an actor in a restaurant scene who drains his glass on camera, but when the camera returns to him for his next lines, has a full glass in front of him? Who knew that there was such a thing as a foley editor, who adds appropriate background sounds--footsteps echoing, brakes squealing, waves breaking--or an ADR , "automated dialog replacement," editor who decides when actors must return and redub lines that were muffled or flubbed in the original sound track at the same high level as the rest of their performance? The musical sound track, often a significant part of the film (think the da dum da dum theme of the shark in Jaws) must be "mixed" with the sound effects and voices of the actors to good effect. Opening screens and credits must be written and filmed, mixed with their own music, and spliced into the film. And finally the final cut of film must be test-screened, evaluated, and marketed, requiring filming and scoring the trailer, designing the EPK (electronic press kit) and advertising graphics, and selling it to festivals and movie theater chains, a part of the filmmaking  process that calls for quite different skills from its beginning as a story needing a screen play.

In Learn to Speak Film: A Guide to Creating, Promoting, and Screening Your Movies the author walks the reader through the entire process, tossing in cool bits of film lingo (when do you get a grip and when do you need a gaffer?) along the way. For middle readers who love movies and wonder what those jobs are that win Oscars, and for those who think they would like to have a place in the making of films--from acting to CGI to makeup artistry--this book is a must read for young people and a must-have for libraries that serve this group. School Library Journal calls it a "delightful soup-to-nuts guide" to the process of filmmaking.

For young people who are beginning to consider where their interests lie, this book and its companion books in the highly rated Owlkids How to Speak series--Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing, and Promoting Your Songs, Learn to Speak Fashion: A Guide to Creating, Showcasing, and Promoting Your Style, and Learn to Speak Dance: A Guide to Creating, Performing & Promoting Your Moves--are recommended for their excellent overview of their subjects, but also for noting the myriad of ancillary job opportunities beyond performance that these enormous industries offer to the arts-minded young person.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

First Snow: Cub's Big World by Sarah L. Thompson



For a newborn cub, just opening her eyes, her den, dug deep in the snow and snug and warm with Mom's big furry body surrounding her, is a fine world, but a very small one.

But when Mom amazingly pokes a hole in that world and leads Cub outside, her concept of the world is transformed.  There is so much light, yellow and bright, that Cub has to blink and blink until her eyes grow used to it.  The sky is a color that is totally new.  Mom says it's called "blue."

Cub climbs a small hill. It's hard, but when she gets to the top, she suddenly slips and slides down the other side!



Now Cub can't wait to see what the whole world is like. But where is Mom in all this whiteness? Then she remembers Mom has a black nose. Cub sets out toward something black.

She meets big, black ravens who squawk at her, ermine with black tips on their tails who swish away, and then, looking down into a hole in the ice, into the deep green water, she sees the flash of a black seal who dives deep under the sea. It's all very exciting, but when Cub looks up again, she can't see anything but snow and more snow. Where is Mom?


Sarah Thompson's Cub's Big World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) makes creative use of her polar snowcap setting in this lovely exploration of the familiar "little runaway" theme.  Thompson's full-bleed pages portray the many colors of the arctic world--blinding white in the sun, cool icy blue in the shadows, and multicolored under the colors of the Northern Lights. Cub is small but central in this snowscape as she bravely sets out to explore her environment. Being alone in that big world is truly scary, but young readers will spot Mom keeping watch at a distance until she senses that her cub is ready for her mom to reappear and restore her perspective on the world.

This is an old story, (much older even than Peter Rabbit) told in spare but lyrical language, depicted in distinctive and exquisite illustrations which show Cub's enlarging world from a variety of perspectives. It is also one that is a metaphor for the young child, whose world grows with each exploration, especially with a parental presence to make sure each experience is good for the youngster's growing understanding. Horn Book's reviewer says, "The suspense is toddler-perfect, with Mom appearing the moment it all becomes too much. . . Lap-sit ready, with a built-in hug at the end."

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Canine Skyscraper Caper: Build, Dogs, Build: A Tall Tail by Joseph Horvath


A mixed group of canine construction mutts--Duke, Roxy, Buddy, Max, Spot, and Spike--clap on their tool belts and hard hats and head off for their current job site, with their wrecking-ball crane ready to take down a derelict building.

Before long, the grader scrapes the scrap up and the Dig Dogs dump truck hauls off the old materials to be recycled, and the crew swings into construction mode. They lay the pipes for plumbing and power, pour concrete for the foundation, and start to construct the high steel framework. Nimble iron team dogs, "a high-flying breed," ride the orange steel girders as the cranes swing them into position.


With a tip of the hard hat to P.D. Eastman's classic Go, Dog. Go! (I Can Read It All By Myself Beginner Books), in verse and art style, in his brand-new Build, Dogs, Build: A Tall Tail (Harper, 2014) Joseph Horvath takes those travelling dogs into the construction trades with bouncy rhymes and bright, jelly-bean colored illustrations of construction equipment and operators as a skyscraper goes up, complete with penthouse with pool where the builder dogs party and splash before moving on to their next job.


For kids who love BIG construction machinery, this book is a good introduction to the world of work in the building trades. Author Horvath actually provides a fairly detailed description of the up side of this skyscraper caper, step by step, from laying the pipes to laying the carpet and plumbing in the fixtures. The dogs are jaunty and jolly and the subject is a perennial favorite with primary-aged kids, as Horvath builds on the high interest of his target audience.   Pair this one with Horvath's equally lighthearted look at getting to the bottom of building in Horvath's earlier Dig, Dogs, Dig: A Construction Tail.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

On Assignment! Little Red Writing by Joan Holub

Once upon a time in pencil school, a teacher named Ms. 2 told her class, "Today we are going to write a story!"

"Sharp!" said Little Red Writing.

At Pencilvania School the students, whether sharp or dull, are all pencils (The better to write with, my dear!), and while the kid with the basketball eraser chooses to be a sportswriter, Little Red Writing sets out on her assignment as ace girl reporter, with a basket of special words chosen for her by Ms. 2.

"Stick to your basic story path," advised Ms. 2.

But Little Red wants a tale of raw courage, adventure, sharp wit confronting evil, all in one prize-winning story for the Pencil School News. She stops by the school gym where there is lots of action and the chance to apply her knowledge of verbs--jump, throw, catch--but the content lacks cachet. And then she passes a sign: WATCH OUT FOR ADJECTIVES ON THE PATH.

Adjectives add pizazz, but it's easy to bog down with too many, so Red pulls some scissors out of her baskets and cuts her way through the descriptors to get her story back on track.

Little Red Writing meets up with some other helpful characters--the Gluey Conjunctions And and Or-- who help her put her ideas together, and when she passes the Adverb Truck ("We deliver speedily!), she picks a few to control her verbs.

Suddenly, abruptly, surprisingly, she heard a strange sound which required all caps and rather large punctuation.

But before she can get lost in the weeds of interjections, Little Red hears a growly voice approaching. It seems to be Principal Granny, but with a long, tangly tail with an electric plug on the end. What's up with their principal? Here at last is an opportunity for sharp investigative reporting.

Following the purported principal into her office, Little Red Writing sees something definitely shocking about that tail. She pointedly questions why Granny has grown such an appendage.

"The better to get charged up when my batteries are low," Principal Granny growls.

Hmmmm! Little Red is sharp enough to know that there has got to be a top-of-the fold story behind Granny's long, strange tail and wicked teeth, and sure enough, it's not their upright principal at all! It's a Wolf 3000 Pencil Sharpener in Granny's clothing.

"The better to chomp little pencils like you and grind them up!"

Will Pencilvania School be reduced to a pile of wood shavings? With just the right noun from her word basket, Little Red courageously vanquishes the evil impostor and turns in her story just under deadline, in Joan Holub's funny, punny fractured fairy tale, taking the venerable Little Red Riding Hood out of the back pages and onto the front page, in Little Red Writing (Chronicle Books, 2013).

Holub skillfully combines the old tale with a sly lesson on the basics of writing with a gross of quips and puns that provide reams of laughs for savvy students. Caldecott honoree Melissa Sweet provides just the right visual humor throughout the pages (one reluctant young pencil has to "get a grip" before he has the write stuff to finish his story on the Write Brothers). Her clever illustrations are filled with witty illustrative details (the art teacher is Mr. Doodle and the math class is in Room 123), and Sweet adds hand-lettered text done up in (what else?) pencil. Even the endpapers write themselves into the story.

Holub's nifty tale about writing earned her gold-starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews, who writes, "Creative and fun, this book works equally well for storytime or story writing." Pair it with Janet Stevens's equally pun-filled  The Little Red Pen (Houghton, 2011) for the full gamut of school-supplies silliness." (See my (ahem!) well-red and written review here.)

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

'Bot Buddies: When Edgar Met Cecil by Kevin Luthardt



Nooooooo! Suddenly, Edgar is whisked away from his perfect life and finds himself in a new place which looks completely alien.  The new school is different and the food in the cafeteria looks like something he's never seen before. The kids are downright weird looking, beyond anything he saw in those scary Saturday night movies!  And one of  them, Cecil,  keeps staring at him with a look that Edgar can't read.

It's a kid's worst nightmare.  Edgar is indeed a stranger in a strange land.


What the narrative doesn't tell (but the illustrations do so well) is that Edgar is some sort of robotic droid and the kids in his new school actually are alien forms of intelligent life.  Cecil is more than a weird version of  Edgar's kind; he's another life form altogether!  Cecil keeps his distance from the others at recess, but that weird guy seems to be shadowing him everywhere he goes.

And then one day Cecil gets really close.  Edgar blurts out that he's scared.


Suddenly Edgar sees himself the way the others must see him. To them, he's weird and scary! That realization is the stuff of Kevin Luthhardt's When Edgar Met Cecil (Peachtree Publishing, 2013). While the storyline is the quintessential new-kid-at-school story,  Luthardt's big, bright, and funny illustrations show what Edgar doesn't tell us, that he's an robot, an android among aliens and they're all weird in wondrously different ways.  Still, Luthardt's conclusion shows the two discovering that they have a lot in common despite their differences, and all's well, as Cecil admits to Edgar:


And, as Kirkus Reviews, sums it up, "This far-out lesson in making friends understands that to the new kid in school, everyone is going to seem scary and weird."

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