Thursday, July 31, 2014

Getting There Is Half the Fun! On My Way to School by Sarah Maizes


That's not good news for Livi! Or for her long-suffering mom, who has to prompt her dawdling daughter at every step along the way.

The princess of procrastination is especially hard to get on track on school mornings.



Livi oozes out of bed, being a slimy snail. Just digging some underwear out of the bureau becomes a pirate expedition for buried treasure, fighting off scalawags with a few YAARRGGs along the way.


Finally in the kitchen Livi mentally morphs into a master chef, concocting amazing chocolate-chip pancakes, as her mother warns that her cereal is in dire danger of becoming soggy.

Upstairs again to brush her teeth, Livi becomes an elephant matriarch, shouldering lesser animals away from her water hole, and when she loads her stuff in her backpack, she suddenly sees herself as as sturdy Sherpa, a powerful porter schlepping her boss's gear up the slopes of Mt. Everest.


Amazingly Livi makes it through the swooshy doors of the bus to become a stalwart pioneer woman at the reins of a dusty covered wagon on the Oregon Trail. And when she dismounts from her wagon in front of the school, she slips instantly into the role of the glamorous starlet, smiling for the papparazzi and sashaying down the red carpet with a wave to her fans for the grand premier of her movie.

A lollapalooza of a lollygagger, our Livi turns every prosaic moment in her day into a potential procrastination,  but also a chance to live lots of different lives along the way. Expeditious she's not, but adventurous and imaginative she is, in Sarah Maizes' latest On My Way story, On My Way to School (Walker Press, 2014).  Again Michael Paraskevas' jolly comic illustrations capture the mercurial fancy of a main character whose internal life is full invention and variety.

Dillydalliers unite. Your numbers are legion, and Livi is your Queen!

Other books in the series are On My Way to the Bath and On My Way to Bed. (see reviews here).

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Back to School: Ninja Boy Goes to School by N. D. Wilson


It's hard starting Kindergarten, too. It, too, requires rising early, being silent and sometimes remaining perfectly still.

A boy needs to get his "NINJA STUF" box down from the high shelf and get geared up to face the day--all in black, with knapsack, mask, and blue headband in place and his stoic ninja face on.

The first challenge is the school bus.


The ninja clings to the ceiling of the bus like a fly.

Inside the schoolroom he feels trapped and wants to run away, but his ninja training comes in handy.


The ninja stays in his seat and waits for his moment. But a true ninja cannot be contained, and when the teacher is not looking, he leaps like a gazelle out the window.

But what does a little ninja do next?

The ninja may not know, but the principal does, and soon Ninja Boy is on the carpet and calling upon all his skills at remaining silent while his parents are called. OOPS.

There are times in life when it's better to keep your inner ninja undercover, as our boy learns in N. D. Wilson's just published Ninja Boy Goes to School (Random House, 2014).  Kids will giggle as Ninja Boy tries out his moves on the first day of school, with somewhat mixed results. Normally, ninjas are not necessarily nice guys, and Wilson's little main character finds out that there's a time and place for everything, with the help of J. J. Harrison's bright comic book-style illustrations. Pair this one with Aree Chung's new top-seller, Ninja! (Henry Holt and Company, 2014) for a duo of nimble ninja stories.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rafe on the Rocks! Save Rafe: (Middle School #5) by James Patterson

"You heard me!" Mom shouted on the other side of that door.

Having gotten himself expelled from Hills Village Middle and similarly ejected from two private art schools, Rafe Khatchadorian finds himself on the educational rocks in more ways than one. His mother has no recourse but to try to re-enroll him at Hills Village.

"You're a PUBLIC SCHOOL! You HAVE to take him!" Mom pleads, but the administrators at HVMS are as hard-nosed as their names imply. Mrs. Stricker and Mrs. Stonecase offer Rafe only one chance to re-matriculate without repeating last year's work--successfully completing The Program ("a highly effective intensive program for behaviorally challenged children") (as in boot camp). Rafe knows he can't let his long-suffering mom down yet again.

But when he arrives at what is euphemistically called Base Camp and sees the rest of the motley crew of campers, he figures he may be the only kid there who is not a crazy, a delinquent, or a major loser. Okay, he has to admit, so far, he probably is all three. His leader, Sargeant Fish, is unhappy with the sorry performance of his charges in setting up camp, and nobody eats that night. And they have to survive seven more days of this torture!


"Time to mow down another challenge," Sarge Fish said. "Move, move, move, move, moooooove!"

The next morning Rafe discovers something about himself--he's acrophobic! He freezes on the way up the climbing tower obstacle, where, by the way, the only lunch option is waiting, and barely makes it to the top, failing to win one of the twenty tokens he must have to pass the course. Even the other losers laugh at him.

After cutting trees and constructing a raft to float down the river, Rafe's team is up, well, down the creek without their paddles, which they lose while spinning dizzily out of control in the rapids. Wet and cold, the failed crew get only a chewing out from their leaders, who tell them to suck it up and head up the nearby mountain. "Move! Move! MOOOOVE!!

To make it worse, Rafe is partnered with Carmen, a tattooed tough chick who punches his arm unless he does all her work as well as his own. Rafe has to get those tokens: failure means washing out and ensuring that he will spend a minimum of four years in middle school. So he does her bidding, trying to stay out of range of her right fist as much as possible while he does her half of the chores. Still, climbing the Devil's Highway cliff, with the nineteenth token at stake, Rafe forgets not to look down and freezes in fear. And there's no help in sight except for Charmin' Carmen, gleefully grabbing for his best handholds.

"Don't be a wuss!" Carmen said. And then she pinched me.

"STOP IT!" I yelled at her.

"Make me," she said And this time her pinch felt more like a piranha taking a bite out of my side.

It was Ticking. Me. Off!

But this time Carmen has the right moves to save Rafe.

Down to the last token to go, Rafe hangs on, his only refuge his drawing notebook. But when the teams are required to collect firewood and build a fire with flint and steel in the pouring rain, Carmen points out that the only way they'll ever get their soggy kindling to burn is by using Rafe's precious notebook as tinder. Saving a few of his Leo and the Loozer pages, Rafe hands his book over to start the fire and win the twentieth token--his ticket home.

It's tough love like Rafe has never seen, as he begins to wonder why he ever screwed up his cushy previous life--a warm, dry house with a refrigerator and his mom to deal with all the problems, in James Patterson's latest in his hilarious Middle School series, Middle School: Save Rafe! (Little, Brown, 2014). After The Program, Hills Village Middle is going to be a piece of cake, Rafe figures.

Well, maybe. Patterson's other books in his best-selling picaresque hero series are Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life, Middle School: Get Me out of Here!, Middle School: My Brother Is a Big, Fat Liar, and Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill. (see reviews here).

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Back to School: Dog Days of School by Kelly DiPucchio



Charlie dreads the sound of the alarm clock's ringing on Monday morning, while his dog Norman gets to roll over and sleep as long as he pleases. Charlie look out his window and whispers a wish to the first star he sees.


In Kelly DiPucchio's funny wish-fulfillment fantasy, Charlie and Norman change places while keeping their own bodies. On Monday Norman jumps out of bed, brushes his teeth, straps on his backpack, and heads off to make the bus while Charlie curls back up in Norman's bed and snores on into the morning. Ahhh!

At school as Charlie, Norman has mixed success with the curriculum. The other kids give him a curious look as he takes Charlie's seat and begins to practice his letters along with them. At art time he carefully sculpts a clay fireplug. At music time he shakes a maraca in the rhythm section, and at storytime, he suffers through boring kitty stories. The other kids don't care for his way of making soccer passes with his mouth, and his teacher gives him timeout for chewing his pencil (and her shoes)!

Meanwhile, Charlie is finding the dog's life not everything it's cracked up to be either. It's boring home alone all day. He eats nothing but dull, dry dog chow and drinks from the toilet, and a trip to the groomer's for a toenail trim, clip, and blow dry makes a morning shower look like fun. And then when he does a little digging in the flowers, he gets himself locked in the laundry room and finds himself, literally, in the dog house, chilling out all night in the chilly backyard. Charlie is ready to return to his old life, but his parent's can't read his notes and don't understand when he woofs his plea.

"Be careful what you wish for" is the popular time-honored premise of Kelly DiPucchio's latest, Dog Days of School (Hyperion Press, 2014). Author DiPucchio and artist Brian Biggs team up to tell this tale, DiPucchio in a deadpan narrative description of events and Biggs using his comic illustrations of Charlie trying to drink from the toilet or fit into the doghouse to point up the obvious humor of this job swap. Kids will sympathize with Charlie's desire to skip school but laugh at his efforts to fit in as a dog, perhaps getting a new perspective on why boys go to school and dogs, well, go outside.

Kelly DiPucchio is the popular author of the best-selling Grace for President, as well as Zombie in Love, Crafty Chloe, and her recent Gaston, another dog identity switcheroo tale.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Isle of Golden Dreams: Babar on Paradise Island by Laurent de Brunhoff


Their boat might have very well been named "The Minnow," because the group has hardly settled down to enjoy their "three-hour tour" when a huge storm blows in and wrecks their ship just off the shore of a seemingly deserted island.

But the elephants easily walk ashore, Babar with the Old Lady riding high and dry on his back, and find this island quite to their taste. It has yellow sandy beaches, tropical flora, and frondy palm trees all around.

While the rest of the family relaxes near the beach, Babar sets out to explore the island's interior and discovers it is not, as he thought, uninhabited. He meets a very large creature that looks a bit familiar!


But this dragon is lonely for company and pitches in with Babar to help build shelters and find water and foodstuffs to make the castaways comfortable while they wait for rescue. And unlike those hapless survivors of The Minnow (who, after all, had a lot of air time to fill) Babar and Celeste soon hear the cheerful "chop chop" of the rescue 'copter to take them home, leaving their new dragon friend waving fondly from his own Paradise.

Laurent de Brunhoff carries on the family tradition in his latest, the shipwreck and rescue adventure of King Babar, Babar on Paradise Island (Abrams, 2014). All the charming and familiar elements of de Brunhoff's father, Jean de Brunhoff's classic stories are there--big, round, well-dressed gray elephants in a gentle outdoor adventure and a simple reassuring conclusion in the company of a close-knit extended family. As Kirkus Reviews jokes, "de Brunhoff's too smart to mess with a successful formula. Familiarity here breeds contentment."

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

You Can't Take It With You! Peppa Pig and the Great Vacation by Neville Astley



But Peppa and little brother George insist that they must have all their toys. Pappa Pig firmly tells them they can only bring their very favorites, and Peppa picks a Teddy and George chooses his "dino-saw."

But then Peppa thinks about her goldfish Goldie. Papa says definitely NOT, for all the right reasons, and Grandpa and Granny agree to Goldy-sit for the duration with plenty of tender loving care.

Mollified, Peppa and George climb into the back seat, and the Pigs are off to vacationland. After a few "Are we there yets?," they arrive at their cottage near the seashore and hit the outdoor pool for plenty of Pig family splashing.

As the days go by, they shop, go out to eat, have a picnic and take a scenic nature walk, and of course enjoy sand castles, splashing in the waves, and wading in the tidal pools. George and Peppa are having the time of their lives, except ... the fishies in the tidal pools remind Peppa of Goldie, alone at home in  a lonely little fishbowl.  How sad is that?

Peppa has to call Granpa and Granny Pig right away to check on Goldie.  Reassured that he's swimming happily, she still feels that she has to do something to let him know she misses him. Momma and Peppa make a secret visit to the post office, and as soon as they arrive back home, the Postman delivers a postcard addressed to Goldie from Peppa.


Peppa Pig, the perky protagonist of the popular television series, shares all the fun of a summer seaside holiday in her latest, Peppa Pig and the Great Vacation (Candlewick Press, 2014) The illustrations, stylized, cartoon abstractions retain few porcine features, except the snout, and show their characters doing all the things kids do on a family beach trip.  Other titles in this popular and prolific preschool spinoff series include Peppa Pig and the Perfect Day, Peppa Pig and the Muddy Puddles, and Peppa Pig and the Vegetable Garden. (Read review here).

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Bad Bears, Good Bears: Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman



Little bears will be little bears. Mama Bear has put the honey jar well out of reach of greedy little paws, but unfortunately, she has chosen the mantle where some of her pretty things are displayed.

As bad luck would have it, in their climbing up, they knock her beautiful blue seashell off, and it shatters all over the floor.

The bear boys know they are going to be in big trouble. Hoping to head off Mama's ire, they quickly push off their little sailboat and head out to find an island with another beautiful  blue seashell in hopes of replacing the broken one before she comes home.

But it's not so easy   No sandy shell beaches are in sight.  The three little bears hail a passing raft, but the ragged drifters haven't seen such a place.  On a passing whaler christened The Melville, the sailors wave their harpoons, dismissing such a silly quest.  Finally they cross wakes with a crusty Big Salty Bear who mumbles something about an island with a tall headland, a tree, and a cave, and says, with a cavalier wave of his mighty paw,


The bears finally make landfall on the island, but their trudge all over yields nothing like a blue seashell. Obviously, this is not the right place. The three bears blame each other for getting them into this mess.


But their squabble is forgotten when an angry thunderstorm approaches and a rogue wave threatens to capsize their little boat.

When they recover from their fright, properly chastened, they admit that they are all to blame for breaking Mama's beautiful blue seashell. Nearly becalmed, they float at last up to their own island, with their little cottage blissfully in sight. And there, on their very own beach, is an even bigger, more beautiful blue seashell.


There's no place like home for the three little penitents, and bearing their offering carefully, they carry the shell sheepishly up to Mama, standing at the door. What will Mama Bear say now?

David Soman's Three Bears in a Boat (Dial Books, 2014) offers a familiar tale of missing little miscreants and their return home. With illustrations reminiscent of Else Minarik's Little Bear (An I Can Read Book)  and a story line not unlike that of the misbehaving little Max in Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, this one has the charm and style of a modern classic. Kirkus' writer points out that Soman tucks a couple of witty tongue-in-cheek allusions to Huck Finn and Moby Dick for grown-ups into the story, adding, "with watercolor seascapes so luminous that readers will want to jump in, this is a book to be treasured for years to come."

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Play With Me? One Busy Day by Lola H. Schaefer


It's the younger sister's dilemma. Big brother Spencer is so cool! Not only does he have a wild imagination; Spencer is born to move, and little sister Mia longs to get in on the action. Spencer zooms from flying his dragon kite to careening his trike, pretending to be a dragon slayer and a race car driver at almost the same time. Deep in play, he pretty much ignores Mia.

Mia has a choice. She could whine and tattle, appealing to Mom.

Or, she can come up with her own fantasy fun.

Mia pretends to be a famous painter. She whirls and twirls like a prima ballerina. Making mud cakes, she imagines herself as a grand chef, surrounded by her fabulous pastries. She constructs a sand mountain with a towering castle on top. She turns her plastic wading pool into an ocean and her floatie toy into a dolphin who carries her bounding over the waves. She throws a blanket over some chairs and crawls inside to explore her deep, dark cave.

As she has hoped, little by little Spencer becomes intrigued with Mia's fanciful adventures, and soon the two are swashbuckling with toy swords, defending their redoubt against fiery dragons, and sailing the seas in tandem imaginings.

Author Lola Schaefer revisits the brother and new baby sister characters in her noted first book, One Special Day, a few years later, with the hyperkinetic Spencer still going strong, but with his equally creative sister Mia just old enough to want to get into the act. Schaeffer paces the story well, with Mia's intriguing solo play incrementally catching Spencer's attention, and the illustrations by Jessica Meserve are just as telling and tender in their just published second book, One Busy Day: A Story for Big Brothers and Sisters (Hyperion Books, 2014). Kirkus Reviews gives this sequel a starred review, saying "Hooray for sibling revelry!"

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Unlocking the Past: Nancy Clancy: Secret of the Silver Key by Jane O'Connor

"Next week, I would like each of you to bring in something from present time. Nothing big. Something that tells about what life is like today. We are going to put everything in a box."

"You mean, like a time capsule?" Lionel asked. "Ooh--and can it have a sign that says "Do not open until 2064?" Nancy added.

"Maybe in fifty years my child will go to this school and open it!" Clara said.

Grace rolled her eyes. "Clara! Do the math. In fifty years you'll be nearly sixty. Your children will be grown ups, too."

"And for Monday," Mr. Dudeny went on, "I'd like you to interview somebody who was your age a long time ago. Find out what it was like being a kid back then.

Nancy and her best friend Bree decide to interview their glamorous older friend, Mrs. DeVine, who brings over an album with photos of herself and her best friend taken in an photo booth at the state fair. Mrs. Devine tells them that she and her friend vowed to be best friends always, just like Nancy and Bree. But then, she added a little sadly, her friend moved away and they lost track of each other over the years.

Nancy can't imagine being 50 years older and not best friends with Bree!

Nancy mulled over Mr. D's words. Once the past hadn't been the past. It had been just like this very moment. The present. And in the future, this very moment would turn into the past.

And the next day, as the family hits the Saturday tag sales to find her a desk for her own room, Nancy finds herself in her own history mystery. At the first stop, she falls in love with a small rolltop desk, with cubbyholes and small drawers above the writing surface. And when they get the desk home, Nancy discovers that one of the two drawers is shorter than the one above, and in it there is a key which appears to open a keyhole in the hidden drawer behind it.

And in that secret drawer is.... another key, a fancy silver key on a chain.

A key which unlocks nothing else on the desk is a mystery, and would-be detectives Nancy and Bree gleefully have themselves a new case! As the two put their heads together to discuss strategy, pushy Grace bikes by and has to hear all about it. As usual, Grace cuts to the chase.

"So, duh! Just go back and ask whoever used to own that desk what the key is for."

Grace was right! Why hadn't they thought of that themselves? Maybe their sleuthing skills were getting rusty.

Grace invites herself along to "interrogate" the desk's former owner, and the three bike over. The former owner says the key was there when she bought it from the LaSalle's next door, who moved to Washington, D.C., years before. Disappointed, Nancy and Bree turn to leave, but Grace butts in.

"Listen, if you do find an email address or something," she said, "you could write and see if your old neighbors would let us email them."

Soon Nancy gets an email for the LaSalle's daughter Olivia, who says the key was in the desk when she got it from her Aunt Elizabeth, who also has now moved back in town.

This investigation is getting intense. Olivia takes the girls' hurried call and digs out her Aunt Elizabeth's email address in a retirement complex nearby. Elizabeth is excited about the silver key and agrees to drop by the girls' detective headquarters. And she recognizes the secret key, her silver key on a chain, like the one her best friend also wore, the one she'd locked in the drawer in Nancy's desk long ago.

But there's something else familiar to Nancy about that silver key. Noticing that Mrs. DeVine had left her photo album behind after her visit, Nancy turns to the photos of the two best friends at the fair. She pulls out her rhinestone-rimmed magnifying glass for a closer look. And in the third photo pasted on the page, Nancy then sees that both girls are holding up ... silver keys on chains around their necks!

Is her new desk's drawer itself a time capsule? Has she discovered Mrs. DeVine's best friend from the past? Is Nancy Clancy's history mystery solved?

Jane O'Connor does it again in her latest Nancy Clancy chapter book, Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Secret of the Silver Key (Harper, 21014), in which she creates an intriguing, multi-faceted mystery for her two girl sleuths, with their sometime frenemy, Grace, who, they admit, is no slouch as a sleuth. Worked seamlessly into their investigations is the working out friction with wannabe friend Grace, not to mention Nancy's deepening thoughts on the nature of time and the relationship of the past with the present and future and her usual new and fancy words. As always, artist Robin Priess Glasser's many humorous black-and-white drawings are an asset in extending the easy-reading text and revealing personalities of the characters. A first-choice for young readers just getting into the mystery novel genre, with plenty of references to Nancy Clancy's favorite girl sleuth, Nancy Drew, to move them along to middle-reader status.

There are many authors who can write good beginning mysteries, but few who can blend the primary grade social scene and curriculum, vocabulary lessons, and a growing maturity into the characters, one who can write a genuinely moving denouement as O'Connor does in this one.

Other not-to-be-missed books in this best-selling series are Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth (Fancy Nancy), Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Secret Admirer, and Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy Sees the Future.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Egg-regious Adventure: Oliver and His Egg by Paul Schmid


Well, it isn't exactly an egg. It's a large oval rock that looks like...

... an EGG!

But when Oliver sits on top of it, the fertile imagination that lives under that tousled head of hair goes to work immediately. The rock becomes an orange egg, from which hatches....

... an orange-spotted... something-or-other.

It looks like a dinosaur or a sea serpent and it looks like a friend, and as soon as Oliver shares his cookies and milk, his friend begins to grow.

It grows into something like a giant Viking ship pool float, and Oliver dons his Viking helmet as they sail off to have adventures on a deserted island, where happily there are marshmallows for roasting.

Then it's back to adventuring, as Oliver's friend morphs into an orange spaceship, and they land on their own planet, space helmets in place for some space walking. But just then a girl's voice is heard from far-away earth.



Poof! Oliver looks down. By George, he is sitting on a rock. Oliver and the girl size each other up silently.

Should he tell her what the rock really is?

Paul Schmid's second Oliver story, Oliver and his Egg (Hyperion Books, 2014) is a celebration of the imaginary adventures kids hatch in their fertile fancy. Schmid makes the most of his simple palette of lavender, orange, gray, and white, done up in his characteristic black line drawings, as he lets his story emerge naturally, even using a final four-page gatefold spread to reveal the possibilities when all of the kids let their fancies fly free.

Other books by Schmid include his notable back-to-school story, Oliver and his Alligator (see my review and Schmid's comment here), his A Pet for Petunia and Hugs from Pearl.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Barely There! NAKED! by Michael Ian Black



A small boy bounces out of a bubblebath and suddenly is beset with the desire to streak the house.

His hair still wet and wild and stray bubblets trailing him, he runs through the house, as slippery as a wet seal, giving his bemused parents and startled baby brother a travelogue of his nude progress.  Racing through the rooms, sliding down the stairs, he even contemplates where else he might go in the... altogether!


His parents have that how-long-is-this-going-to-last look, but opt for ignoring the show. Mom goes on with the laundry, and Dad, with sidelong looks, pretends to be unimpressed as his bare boy does a demo of the Hokey Pokey's moves, cleverly shown on page in a birds-eye view.

And then our boy spots his beloved cape in the laundry basked, and putting it on over his bare skin inspires him to create a new superhero, Captain Naked, the nemesis of evildoers everywhere!



But just when Mom and Dad seem to have about had it with their in-house exhibitionist, the natural order asserts itself.


Our impromptu nature boy discovers on his own why people don't go around naked as he reaches for his warm jammies and slippers in Michael Ian Black's Naked! (Simon & Schuster Books, 2014). Debbie Ridpath's exuberant comic illustrations show the joy of our au natural boy, all the while cleverly managing her point of view to figleaf those private zones most artfully with a leg, foot, or, in the schoolroom scene, with a scrupulously placed piece of paper. This is, of course, one of those books which youngsters will find truly funny: if the mere mention of the word "underwear" sets off giggles, this one will engender gales of laughter. (Don't say I didn't warn you! Parents, read this one after the kids are in their pajamas! Teachers: schedule this one right before recess or just before the buses appear.)

Black and Ridpath also collaborated on their popular I'm Bored.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

You Can Count on Octopus! Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell



A boy and his babysitter begin the bedtime routine, with the usual resistance.

But when the bedroom is in a tubby little tugboat and the sitter is a red octopus, you can be pretty sure this is not your ordinary every-evening bedtime book.

Octopus tries to lead the boy toward bed by offering a nice, warm bath first.

But the tub is filled with nice, warm... egg salad!




Octopus is helpful. He offers to dry the boy off with the breeze from his tuba.

Politely, the boy declines. Sheesh!

Octopus suggests the boy put on some pajamas. But... Octopus tosses them on top of the Statue of Liberty.

Things only get goofier, as Octopus clearly tries to make a game out of getting ready for bed. He cranks up the amp, tunes up his guitar, and offers a rock-and-roll lullaby. The boy politely demurs.

Octopus blithely assures his charge that monsters under the bed will be NO problem.

He's put all of them in the closet! He reaches for the closet door to prove it.


But when it's time for a good-night hug, the boy finds a way (bear-ly) to turn the tables on his silly sitter, in Darren Farrell's inventive little bedtime story, Thank You, Octopus (Dial Book, 2014).  Using a picturesque backdrop of the New York City harbor, Farrell sets his plush-toylike characters in chubby, blocked flat colors, adding to the quirky tone of this awesomely absurd sleepy time tale. Super-giggle fare to take time-for-bed resistors under the sheets with a smile on their faces! Kirkus Reviews says, "A maritime—and bedtime—delight."

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Between the Ocean and the Air: Breathe by Scott Magoon


Baby mammals are the ones who play, who must play to learn, and the ones who show such obvious joy in doing so.

A little beluga whale sets out for a day of adventure, his mother reminding him that he has to remember to come up and breathe, breathe, breathe. He spouts a little plume of vapor, gulps a deep breath, and dives down to see what he can see in the clear, cold, blue-green Arctic waters. He swims through colorful schools of fish and graceful strands of kelp swaying in the current. He swims past a gray and ghostly wreck of a whaler, its masts still standing as it rests on the sea floor. He watches puffins, with their bright orange bills and sleek black bodies diving past him into the blue-black deeps and coming back up toward the sky.

He rises to take a breath in a cove where small icebergs and a broken ice field share the icy waters, and sees the silhouette of a polar bear looking down at him through the ice and swims away, away, away toward another breathing hole where it is safe to come up for a breath. And then, as young ones do, he looks around for his mother, watching nearby, and joins her for a snack and a bit of a sleep, floating where air and water meet, under the wide and starry sky.

Scott Magoon uses the familiar story strain of the little one discovering his world in his first adventure out on his own, but his lyrical illustrations of the watery, icy world of a little whale are a lovely setting for this story. Magoon's just-published Breathe (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster Books, 2014) makes great use of several forms of artistic media, even digital, to show the beauty of the Arctic waters and those who live there. Kirkus Reviews give this one a starred review, adding "The simple adventure concludes with an anthropomorphic yet welcome invitation: "Most of all, love/and be loved." Richly composed and sweetly appealing—just right for toddler storytimes as well as one-to-one sharing."