BooksForKidsBlog

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Crunch Time! The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin and Scott Magoon

IT WAS TIME FOR BED, THE DAY WAS DONE.

BUT HAZEL AND WALLY WERE STILL UP AND HAVING FUN.

What else is new? Aren't all kids a little nuts at bedtime?

(Walnut) Wally and (Hazelnut) Hazel can't be bothered by (Chestnut) Mom and keep bouncing on their trampoline, singing

"WE'RE NUTS! WE'RE NUTS! WE'RE NUTS!"

Like all youngsters, they're happy to keep doin' what they're doin', full of wiggles and giggles and all kinds of inventive stalling activities--being "astronuts" ("Houston, we have a praline....") for the "Unnuted States", sailing the seas (on the liner "Titanut")--until Mama Nut eventually cracks down on her little nuts:

MAMA NUT GAVE THEM THE LOOK.

SHE MARCHED THEM UP TO BED AND TUCKED THEM IN TIGHT!

Bedtime is a tough nut to crack and in their nutty collaboration, best-selling author Eric Litwin and illustrator Scott Magoon's The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House (Little, Brown and Company, 2014), get down to the kernel of truth in the nightly battle of bedtime, that all little nuts need their rest. Litwin and Magoon crack wise with a few punny names to please slightly older readers and some silly visual jokes that will knock this target audience off their tree as well. Downloads are available of the book's own song for parents and little bedtime delayers, perhaps to lullaby all those little nuts to slumberland.

Pair this one with Sarah Maizes' saga of the queen of sleepytime procrastination, On My Way to Bed (see review here) or Jennifer Adams' Edgar Allan Poe parody, Edgar Gets Ready for Bed: A BabyLit®First Steps Picture Book (see my recent review here).

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why Did the Monkey Cross the Inlet? Monkey Goes Bananas by C. P. Bloom

Monkey has a problem. He's on one side of the ocean inlet and a tree with a huge bunch of ripe bananas is on the other side. How to get across THE WATER?

He sticks one toe in. Hmmm! Not too bad! He start wading across. Not too deep.

But then he meets something no one wants to meet in the sea.

THE SHARK!

Zip! Monkey is back on the bank. What to do?

He tries stilt walking across the inlet. He laughs at the shark until...

... his stilts go down in a hole and he drops down into shark-bite territory.

Zip!  Back to where he started. Monkey gets his fishing gear and baits the enormous hook for a big catch.
CHOMP!

Suddenly Monkey sees that hauling in The Shark is not a good plan. A Land Shark is not what he needs. But he can't give up until he gets his BANANA.

Back to the drawing board. Monkey decides it's time to put some physics on his side. He fashions a lasso and twirls it across the inlet, snagging the whole banana tree! He wraps his end of the rope around another tree, pulley-style, and hauls until the banana tree bends just within his reach.

But just as Monkey snags his Banana, WHAM! The tree snaps back and leaves Monkey and Banana dangling just above Shark's jaws.

Now...who's going to enjoy a snack today?

C. P. Bloom's tidy tale, The Monkey Goes Bananas (Abrams Books, 2014) is a silly-giggle-getting, almost-wordless story. Peter Raymundo's high-res illustrations turn this slight  text into a funny but epic account of survival of the, well, luckiest!  Using comic-strip frames and skillful cartooning, Raymundo plays with perspective and page-turn drama to make this one perfect for preschool and beginning reader fare. Slapstick and sight gags are put to good use here for both story circle time and read-alone time. "Kids will jump right into this rip-roaring flip book—paced tale," says School Library Journal.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

"You Gotta Love Aphrodite!" Percy Jackson's Greek Gods by Rick Riordan

"I hope I'm getting extra credit for this. A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, Can we do this anonymously? Because I don't need the Olympians mad at me again.

If you don't know me, my name is Percy Jackson. I'm a modern demi-god."

And who better to give us up-close-and-personal thumbnail bios of those classical mythology characters than Rick Riordan's demi-god hero, Percy Jackson? Having spent more literary time than he really wanted dodging lightning bolts and other insults to his person with those guys, he's surely got the inside track to their personalities. The hero of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series proceeds to tell all about those pesky Greek gods and goddesses who haunt middle-school mythology units, usually safely contained in (mostly undisturbed) dusty library tomes, with the sarcastic point of view that only a young teen demi-god can give us.

Percy's chapter headings give us an idea of what's in store within: "The Beginning and Stuff; The Golden Age of Cannibalism; Zeus? Forget Him; Hermes Goes to Juvie; Demeter Turns into Grainzilla; Persephone Marries Her Stalker; Ares, The Manly Man's Manly Man; Hestia Chooses Bachelor #0; and "Hades Does Home Improvements," to name some of the deities ruling over their own sections.

Percy/Rick provides a disclaimer that "there are bazillions of different versions of the myths, so don't get all 'Well, I heard it a different way.'" But with some allowance for Percy's tongue-in-cheek delivery, Rick Riordan's just published Percy Jackson's Greek Gods (Hyperion Books, 2014) provides a highly readable resource for middle readers' school assignments or for Percy's many fans, who have been with him since The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) first came off the presses or who have just discovered this best-selling series, to visit with their favorite hemi-semi-demi-god once again.

Percy Jackson offers an afterword and a thorough index, but appends his own ironical message for his dear readers:

"Please. There are about 100,000 Greek Gods out there. I am a little too ADHD to include everyone of them.

Please don't give the publisher any ideas. This writing gig is hard!

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

"I Am Not!" My Teacher Is a Monster by Peter Brown

BOBBY HAD A PROBLEM IN SCHOOL.

HER NAME WAS MRS. KIRBY.

Mrs. Kirby is a monster. Built like a cross between a dowdy fireplug and a warthog with fangs, Mrs. Kirby stomps around like Godzilla and bellows his name when he innocently sails a paper airplane around the classroom.

"ROBERT!! NO RECESS!"

Through the week Mrs. Kirby's monster face haunts Bobby's dreams. But at last it is Saturday and he heads off for the local park for some much-needed
R and R.

It can't be. But it IS. Mrs. Kirby is there, in his park, sitting on his bench, wearing a large, flowered hat, with no sign of welcome on her fanged face when she spots Bobby. They look long at each other, each wishing the other was somewhere, anywhere else.

Bobby longs to run, but something tells him that is the wrong move. Warily, he sits down on the far edge of the bench and raises his hand.

"BOBBY, YOU DON'T NEED TO RAISE YOUR HAND OUT HERE."

"I WAS GOING TO SAY 'HELLO, MRS. KIRBY.'"

It is a awkward moment as they both sit there wondering what to say next, when a brisk breeze blows Mrs. Kirby's hat away. Muttering something about its being a gift from her granny, Mrs. Kirby gets up to give chase, but Bobby beats her to the hat, and the grateful Mrs. Kirby calls him her hero.

With the ice broken, Bobby and Mrs. Kirby have a quacking contest with a mother duck and her ducklings swimming by, and when they are quite quacked out, Bobby offers to show his teacher his favorite part of the park, a high knoll.

Bobby scampers up the rocks, and Mrs. K. clambers up behind him. They sit atop the hill together.

"THIS IS LOVELY," SAID MRS. KIRBY."

She hands Bobby a fresh sheet of paper from her bag and he makes and flies his best paper airplane ever. And as the two say goodbye, Bobby notices that Mrs. Kirby doesn't look like a monster at all.

That is, until Monday, when Bobby has an uncontrollable urge to fly his best paper airplane across the classroom.

"ROBERT!!!"

Mark Brown's Arthur had Mr. Ratburn, and Harry Allard's miscreant Room 207 had Miss Viola Swamp. Heck, we've all had that teacher, the one we were sure lived to torture us with pages and pages of arithmetic problems, cancelled recesses, and dirty looks. Now it is Bobby's turn, in Peter Brown's My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) (Little, Brown and Company, 2014). Caldecott-winning artist (for Creepy Carrots!) Peter Brown lays down a deadpan text and lets his illustrations, done in India ink, pencil, and gouache with digital effects, project Bobby's assessment of his teacher, shown with moldy green skin and snaggly fangs at school which morph into a rather pleasant teacherly face at the park, and which only start to flush a bit greenish at the sight of that errant airplane on Monday.

Mark Brown's Arthur had Mr. Ratburn, and Harry Allard's miscreant Room 207 had Miss Viola Swamp. Heck, we've all had that teacher, the one we were sure lived to torture us with pages and pages of arithmetic problems, cancelled recesses, and dirty looks. Kids will laugh--sympathetically--with Bobby, whose hair literally stands on end under the glare of his monster teacher, and perhaps get the hint that misbehaving may be what turns teachers into monsters after all.

Other top-selling books by Peter Brown are Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards (Awards)) and Children Make Terrible Pets (Starring Lucille Beatrice Bear). (See reviews here)

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back to School: Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen

A LONG TIME AGO,
WHEN POUT-POUT FISH WAS VERY SMALL,
HE HEADED OFF TO SCHOOL
FOR THE FIRST TIME OF ALL.

It's a swim down memory lane, and Pout-Pout Fish recalls his first day at school.

It didn't begin well.

He gets lost on the way, and his backpack is getting very heavy by the time he swims up to what looks like an enormous school, unfortunately named ROCK BOTTOM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.

Inside, he wanders about, wondering where he is supposed to be. He tries going into a classroom, where all the students seem to be where they are supposed to be, looking like they know what they are doing, practicing printing their names. Pout-Pout tries, but his fins flub the job.

He drifts on down the corridor to a room where young denizens of the deep are learning about shapes. He hasn't a clue what to call them, and his rhombus is all wrong.

He blub-blubs and flub-flubs on down the hall and tries another classroom, where the subject is math. Pout-Pout hasn't a clue what to do. His usually pout-pout face is even more droopy than ever.

"I'M NOT SMART.
I'LL NEVER GET IT.
I DON'T BELONG.
I SHOULD FORGET IT!"

But before he can swish out the exit, Miss Hewitt, his teacher, finds him with a word for the wise.

"DON'T YOU FRET.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO KNOW
WHAT YOU HAVEN'T LEARNED YET!

With a comforting fin on his back, she shows him a door with a sign that says BRAND-NEW FISH, a room where everyone is a newbie, and they all begin to learn together.

What's more natural for a fish than joining his school, and Deborah Diesen's recent The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School (A Pout-Pout Fish Adventure) Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014) deals, not with worries about making friends on the first day, but the equally scary thoughts about being able to do the work there, an even more pressing problem for some small fry, to whom the work the big fish are doing looks totally intimidating. Easy-going quatrains carry Diesen's story forward, and artist Dan Hanna's familiar portrayals of poor, dour Pout-Pout Fish, whose off-to-school mood is not so good, shows how a lot of kids are feeling about what lies ahead of them. Hanna's flummoxed and glum Fish has a humorous "Eeyore" approach to everything, and his visual jokes along the way make for reassuring cartoon fun for youngsters in the first-day story circle.

Diesen's other top-selling undersea stories include The Pout-Pout Fish (A Pout-Pout Fish Adventure) The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark (A Pout-Pout Fish Adventure), and Sweet Dreams, Pout-Pout Fish (A Pout-Pout Fish Adventure).

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Only Connect: Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Milo grabbed his boots and ducked outside before anyone could ask him where he was going, passing his father busy stacking firewood, and sprinted down the path and into the woods.

He found the paperback right away, wedged between the Whilforber Whirlwind and the edge of the wooden floor. He must have dropped it when the tower of luggage had come tumbling down. He was just about to head back inside when he spotted something else on the steel tracks.

It looked like a blue leather wallet, only bigger. Milo climbed down onto the rails behind the car and picked it up.

And that's how he found the first map.

The paper was old and green-tinged. It was brittle and delicate. Milo held it up so that the light from the closest lamppost shone through, and he could just make out a watermark: it looked like a wrought-iron gate, but warped and wrenched out of its original shape.

It was then that Milo realized what he was looking at.

It is the beginning of Christmas break, and Milo Pine is looking forward to spending the snowy holidays quietly with his family in their inn. Known locally as the "smuggler's inn," the Pines' Greenglass House rarely had holiday guests, smugglers or otherwise, but just as Milo settles in to enjoy his vacation, the visitors' bell rings and two unusual guests arrive in the lift from the village below. The two elderly passengers. Mrs. Hereward and Mr. Vinge, commence shouting violently at each other over their mixed-up luggage. Hardly had Mrs. Pine soothed their ruffled feathers with cups of tea than more unexpected guests arrive, two young women, the blue-haired Georgie, who informs Milo, carrying her bags upstairs, that she is a thief, and the red-haired Clem, who flies effortlessly and  soundlessly up the always creaky old stairs and describes herself as a cat burglar. Then in short order, Mrs. Carraway, a village woman hired to help with the kitchen work, arrives with a young girl, who calls herself Meddy, and yet another guest, the fusty Dr. Gowerwine.

Milo falls asleep by the fire reading The Raconteur's Commonplace Book, loaned to him by Georgie, and wakens to find Meddy looking at him curiously and holding the blue wallet.

"So you're adopted, then?" she asked "I heard you were."

Milo is annoyed. So, he's obviously Chinese and his parents are just ordinary locals. Nice of her to point it out. But then, as she opens the wallet and studies the fragile old map inside, she comes up with an intriguing idea.... a campaign, a role-playing game of Odd Trails, to discover the meaning of the map and the true mission of the person who lost it in the snow.

"We're stuck here, right? Might as well do something fun." she said.

Reluctantly, Milo agrees. But as Meddy explains that the two of them must take on a new personas, avatars, he as Negret, the escaladeur, and Meddy as Sirin, the scholiast, Milo finds himself intrigued with his new persona as lock picker, athletic burglar and adventurer, and agrees to play the game.

And as events unfold, it seems that their guests are not what they seem either. Milo's map is stolen first from its hiding place beneath the carpet, and then each of the guests have something taken from their rooms, each object with a connection to the old inn. And as Milo and Meddy work together to discover everyone's purpose, they discover that each one of them as well is connected in the most odd ways with Greenglass House, and not just the oceanside inn it now is. Milo learns that the inn was the one-time mansion of the notorious smuggler, Doc Holystone, whose map leads to a sort of treasure after all, not a runner's hoard, but a bequest for his daughter, who herself died in a fall the night a customs officer chased Doc Holystone over the cliff.

Unleashing the tangle of connections between everyone there and their relation to the cypher hidden in the stained glass windows of the old house leads Milo to an insight into his own heritage and of Meddy's true identity, one that will reward readers with a last surprising revelation in the story's dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

Forthcoming today, Kate Milford's Greenglass House (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2014), set within the Gothic background of an old inn with its own secrets and a strange assortment of snowbound guests, all seeking some revelation hidden in the history of the old house, is a layered, slow-developing story that unwinds the connections between each character in fascinating fashion, saving the inn's deepest secret for last.

An atmospheric mystery and tale of the past in which the old mansion itself is almost a character, part role-playing game and part family story, with overlays of smuggling lore, Milford's engrossing story will appeal to fans of supernatural history mysteries such as Mary Downing Hahn's All the Lovely Bad Ones, and The Old Willis Place, Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society and sequels,  the several books in series, written by a stable of famous authors, The 39 Clues, Pseudonymous Bosch's Secret series or Lissa Evans' Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery,  and a Very Strange Adventure.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School: Chu's First Day of School by Neil Gaiman

CHU WAS WORRIED.

HE HAD NEVER BEEN TO SCHOOL BEFORE.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

All first-timers are at least a little leery of leaving the home setting and moving into the world of SCHOOL! Chu voices his fears to his parents, who blithely assure him that his teachers and classmates are sure to like him.

But Chu is worried. You see...

THERE IS THIS THING THAT CHU COULD DO.

Youngsters fortunate enough to have read Neil Gaiman's first Chu story will know why Chu is worried. Those who haven't will get a clue from the book's title page and frontispiece. Chu is first shown sitting amid a field of daisies, looking warily across the street at the waiting Big School. A page turn shows the tall grass flattened where he was sitting and bits of daisies and grass floating down through the air as Chu hustles off, page right.

At school the teacher and students do seem nice. Teacher kicks the day off with a getting-to-know you exercise in which students are to introduce themselves and tell the others something special they can do.

Jengo the Giraffe says that she likes to get things down from high shelves. Pancho the Capuchin says he likes to climb trees if they aren't too tall, and Robin says she likes to sing.

When it is his turn, Chu takes a pass.

The others all take their turns, happy to tell about the cool things they do, as Teacher chalks their names carefully on the blackboard. At last everyone looks at Chu.

And as the  chalk dust tickles his nose,  they find out the special thing Chu could do:

"AHH... AAAAH... AAAAAH....

"AAAAAAHH-CHOOOOOOOOO!"

Papers fly from Teacher's desk, books fly, too, as bookcases, desks, and stools overturn. Everyone is dazed, surprised, and overwhelmed. Teacher picks herself up, but everyone else lies there, speechless.

"THAT'S WHAT I DO," SAID CHU.

Neil Gaiman's latest Chu story, Chu's First Day of School (HarperCollins, 2014), shows his sneezy protagonist as he blows the first-day blues away. Chu's impromptu ah-choo is certainly an icebreaker for his class, and by the time he gets home, he announces that he's not worried anymore.

Notable artist Adam Rex does the illustrative honors, with the most engaging little panda ever front and center, mixing full-bleed colored pages with bright white backgrounds where his adorable little Chu is highlighted in all his innocent charm. Of all the first-day-of-school stories out there, this one is truly unique.

Newbery author Gaiman's first Chu book is Chu's Day, and you can read my 2013 review here.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Make A Wish! Tyler Makes a Birthday Cake by Tyler Florence and Craig Frazier

It's Tyler's pup, Tofu's, birthday, which calls for a cake. Tyler knows how to cook pancakes--and spaghetti--but neither of those seem like birthday party fare. How do you make a birthday cake?

LET'S GO TO THE BAKERY AND FIND OUT HOW!

Ty remembers how delicious Mr. Baker's carrot cake is, so he asks for some expert help. Mr. Baker launches into a full scale How-To demo!

"WE CAN CREATE ANYTHING YOU SET YOUR IMAGINATION TO!" SAYS MR. BAKER.

"WHAT ABOUT A SPACESHIP? A RACE CAR? A PIRATE SHIP?" SAYS TYLER.

The master baker starts the first step--assembling ingredients, pointing out to Tyler that he will recognize some of the same things that went into his delicious pancakes--flour, butter, and eggs. But for a carrot cake, they will also need carrots--and pineapple Pineapple?

"Aloha. Tyler!" laughs Mr. Baker. He explains that pineapple is a fruit from Hawaii that looks like a pinecone but which is sweet and crisp inside--like an apple. He shows Tyler how it is prepped for the cake. He goes on to explain the other ingredients that make this cake unique--raisins (dried grapes), cinnamon (the dried and grated bark of a tropical tree), walnuts (from a walnut tree) and vanilla (made from vanilla beans). While the cake bakes, they make the frosting--with cream cheese made from milk from dairy cows.

But Mr. Baker points out that carrot cake is for people, and since Tofu is a dog, he gets a special canine kind of cake that dogs will love--made with peanut butter, more shredded carrots, grape seed oil, and whole wheat flour. And... they can bake Tofu's cake in the shape of a bone, and decorate it with a topping of dog treats!

Tyler blows up the balloons, puts out party hats, and sets the table for the party.

They sing "Happy birthday, dear Tofu!" Can the dogs dig into Tofu's birthday cake now?

Not yet! There's just one more thing to do.

MAKE A WISH!

In their latest in series, Tyler Makes a Birthday Cake! (Tyler and Tofu) (Harper, 2014), Tyler Florence and Craig Fisher bring back Tyler for another kitchen adventure, every kid's favorite, the birthday cake. With Chef Florence providing the culinary chops, artist Frazier provides the eye-pleasing illustrations of the novice Tyler and his pooch Tofu, whose doggy doings provide the comic relief to the cuisine lessons. Craig Frazier's stick figure characters contrast well with the round and furry Tofu and his canine friends, with a few humorous touches (Tofu's fireplug pinata), that make this book a good read before a baking lesson or a trip to the bakery for a primary class. Other Tyler stories are Tyler Makes Pancakes! (Tyler and Tofu) and Tyler Makes Spaghetti! (Tyler and Tofu)

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Birdy V. Worm: Early Birdy Gets the Worm by Bruce Lansky

A baby bird, the only one awake, peers over the edge of the nest. What is Mama doing down there? She's pulling a delicious-looking worm out of a worm hole!  Hey!  Is it breakfast time?

Birdy has to try that for himself. He hops over the edge of the nest and flutters perilously down to the ground. Now, where are the worms?

He spots something long and skinny and grabs it in his beak and pulls. But this worm is not cooperating. It pulls back. In fact, it is pulling him into the air. Wait! That's not a worm. It's a kite string!

Early Birdy is not ready to be airborne just yet, so he lets go. Now, where is a real worm?

He sees something long and pink in the hollow at the bottom of a tree trunk. Birdy is on it in a flash! Unfortunately, the long pink thing turns out to have a rather angry mouse at the other end, one now with a sore tail.  Uh, sorry!  Have a good day!

Finally Early Birdy spots a real worm crawling across the ground. Unfortunately, a BIG bluejay spots it at the same time. There's a brief tug-of-war over the stretchy worm, with the inevitable result. Bluejay flys away with his worm, and Early Birdy flops into a faceful of dirt.

Things only get worse when Birdy sees a boy with a can of worms. The little fisherman takes one out and does something with some string, and Early Birdy makes his move for the worm, only to find himself sailing out over the pond holding fast to the worm on a fish hook.

What's a guy got to do to get some grub around here?

In his latest Picture Reading Book for Young Children, Early Birdy Gets the Worm: A PictureReading Book for Young Children (Meadowbrook Press, 2014), author Bruce Lansky and artist Bill Bolton have a wordless story with just enough slapstick humor and tension to take little ones through the story on their own after an initial parental run-through.  Bolton's comic watercolor illustrations are charming, while clearly "telling" the story through his characters' facial expressions and body language. Available in board book and e-book format, this one offers the youngest "readers" the chance to create their own narration each time they open the book.

Lansky's other tales for tots include his fractured nursery verse collections, Mary Had a Little Jam and Other Silly Rhymes and Peter, Peter, Pizza-Eater: And Other Silly Rhymes, and his Baby Genius board book series.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Little House in the Tropics: The Tree House That Jack Built by Bonny Verburg and Mark Teague

HERE IS THE BOY, UP IN A TREE
WHERE HE BUILDS A HOUSE.OVERLOOKING THE SEA.

YES! THIS IS THE HOUSE JACK BUILT.


Jack has developed his construction skills quite a bit since he built that first little house.He's branched out into beach front real estate, and put up quite the little seaside chalet, complete with fancy turrets, a widow's walk overlook, multi-floor decks, one with hammock, and other tropical accouterments.

Jack doesn't live alone there. He has quite a few animal friends.

HERE IS THE FLY THAT BUZZES BY THE TREE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT.
THIS IS THE LIZARD THAT SNAPS THE FLY THAT BUZZES BY.

In traditional cumulative tale style, animals appear just in time for cameo appearances. A pet parrot pecks at the fly-snapping iguana, and a cat takes a turn on the swing until the dog gets into the act and chases him higher in the tree. Snakes and monkeys hang out on the limbs of the tree with Jack, until a bell sounds, calling all to storytime, in Bonnie Verberg's rhyming re-do of the classic, The Tree House That Jack Built (Orchard Books, 2014).

As parent-preferred picture books do, this one ends at bedtime, as all the tree house residents settle down while Jack reads from their favorite bedtime story book, which is, of course, The Tree House That Jack Built. This story works through its spoof of the favorite nursery rhyme and the unique illustrations of Mark Teague, whose banyan-tree house is filled with fascinating details full of humor. See more of Teague's work with Jane Yolen in the best-selling How Do Dinosaurs... series and his own Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School (LaRue Books) or the popular Snowmen series with Caralyn Buehner.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Another Sort of Rescue Dog: Mogie, The Heart of the House by Kathi Appelt

Some dogs are meant for dramatic rescues from burning buildings. Some dogs are meant to track down children lost in the woods. Some dogs patrol perimeters of lonely outposts, looking for saboteurs.

Mogie is not one of those dogs.

He's a shaggy, fluffy-footed, somehow goofy-looking Labradoodle, clearly capable of making messes and misbehaving.

But Mogie has one special talent.

GIVE HIM A KIDDO WHO IS BLUER THAN BLUE, AND MOGIE WILL BE TRUER THAN TRUE.

Mogie is an empathy dog. And when Mogie wanders into Ronald McDonald House, he discovers his calling.

Mogie sees a boy who used to be a busy, bouncing, back-flipping sort of boy, slumped sadly in a wheelchair.

Gage has definitely lost his Mojo!

Mogie goes to Gage and sits down beside him. He smiles at Gage in that goofy way that only a floppy, frizzy-faced, tongue-lolling dog can, and Gage looks at him. Soon Mogie finds a ball for Gage to toss, and the two become friends. Life is looking up for Gage, and he's on his way to becoming his old self. In time he's got his Mojo back and goes home.

Mogie has lost his friend. But then comes a girl, a gloomy girl who looks as if she's lost her "cha-cha-cha." Mogie knows just what to do.

Newbery-winning author Kathi Appelt tells this true story of a different sort of rescue dog, dogs whose job is to comfort and "rescue" sick and injured kids, in her latest, Mogie: The Heart of the House (Atheneum, 2014) Appelt has a light touch with what could have been somewhat smarmy story, brightening the narrative with appealing verse and with just a hint of the theme that all of us, even messy mutts, have our gifts in this world. Appelt's sweet story is ably illustrated by notable artist, Marc Rosenthal, whose engaging Mogie is the sort of pooch almost no one could resist. Publishers Weekly says, "A warm tribute to a remarkable dog and to the workers at Ronald McDonald Houses, which will receive a share of proceeds from book sales."

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Closet Terpsichorian: Rupert Can Dance by Jules Feiffer

RUPERT LOVED TO WATCH MANDY DANCE.

THE ONLY TIME SHE STOPPED DANCING WAS WHEN SHE WENT TO SLEEP!

But watching is just not enough. Rupert himself wants to dance. He longs to leap and twirl and kick and swivel lithely as only a feline can.

But felis silvestris domesticus is a secretive species. No one must know, so Rupert waits until Mandy is deep in slumber, slips into her closet, and pulls on her blue ballet slippers.

And Rupert dances. He is lithe and limber. He slithers and swishes. He twirls and swizzles his tail. His eyes glow and his paws know no pause until dawn draws near and he has to curl up and pretend to be nothing more than a cuddly cat.

It is Rupert's little secret.

But then one night Mandy wakes up and witnesses Rupert's routine.

Rupert's solo career is wrecked, but Mandy is delighted. Now she had a dancing partner, just what she has always secretly wanted.

But Rupert resists. He hides under her bed, peering nervously out from under the quilt. Mandy stands where she is sure Rupert can watch and shows him the basic foot positions. Rupert refuses to take the bait.

Can Mandy trick Rupert into doing a duet? What if she pretends that she simply can't get that step right? She slips. She trips. She seems to have two left feet.

And of course Rupert falls for the ploy and soon creeps out to show her just how it's done, in Jules Feifer's latest, Rupert Can Dance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014). One glance at the cover, with Feiffer's gung ho cat lost in la danse, would make anyone (even a dog) laugh. Feiffer's trademark sketchy, wobbly black line and marker coloring gives Rupert just the right quirky, crazed cat look as he and Mandy demonstrate their pas de deux. A fitting book for ballet lovers and cat fanciers, which is most of the feminine readership of picture books these days, this one pairs well with Anna Kemp's pugnacious, pirouetting, prima pug, Bif, in Dogs Don't Do Ballet (Read review here).

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