BooksForKidsBlog

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Claws Pause for Caws: Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt

TEN CRUNCHY CRICKETS,

TEN GREEN PEPPERS.

TEN FOR THE COUNTING CROWS.

YEP, YEP, YEPPERS!

Crows just wanna have lunch, and these guys are on the hunt for tasty tidbits and hearty handouts.

They're solid omnivores, sampling bugs and berries, mangoes with a chaser of spicy ants, crispy peanuts and pre-sampled trashcan pizza! They'll sing for their supper, too!

CAW! CAW! CAW!

Lithe and stylishly turned out in peppermint-striped tunics, one with polka-dotted scarf, these trendy crows are likely to pose--adorning tree limbs, arranging themselves artistically on telephone wires, lounging in their untidy, twiggy nests, and soaring down to check out overturned trash bins for munchy morsels. They grack and grabble, caw and crackle!

But the troika of crows are not the only ones on the hunt. There's this red-scarfed feline who's got a yen for a tea-time poultry treat who's already on the prowl. Will nature take its course when the hunters become the hunted? And where did that cat get that familiar-looking scarf anyway?

The rhyming couplets count up to a dozen, in Kathi Appelt's newest, Counting Crows (Atheneum Press, 2015). Appelt, a Newbery and National Book Award honoree for long-form fiction (The Underneath), as well as a multiple award winner for her picture book format favorites (see reviews here), shows her love for words and wordplay in a creative counting book that belies its well-worn genre. Artist Rob Dunlavey's black crows put even the venerable Heckle and Jeckle in the back seat for concept and execution on each invitingly well-designed page. It's well worth caw-caw-cawghing up the cost of this cawllosal counting lesson for the preschool or early reader!

As Kirkus cackles in their starred review, "This is a real counting fest, as not only the crows, but the food they collect—-berries, bugs and snacks—-are fodder for the counting game and for improving reading skills at the same time."

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"I Contain Multitudes:" Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

WHAT WAS HE INTERESTED IN?

EVERYTHING.

I MEAN IT.

EVERYTHING.

Thomas Jefferson pretty much defined the American character all by himself. Disciplined but a spendthrift who loved beautiful things; dutiful but expansive in mind, in body, and in national aspirations; a spirited writer but an uninspiring speaker who delivered his State of the Union address not in an oration but in a letter to Congress; and a social philosopher who condemned slavery but could never quite afford to free most of his own slaves, Jefferson encompassed the inconsistencies and breadth of spirit that have since characterized his country. As the poet Walt Whitman put it, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

To Jefferson we owe some basic big ideas--equality of opportunity, separation of church and state, and freedom of speech, and perhaps manifest destiny. His were the virtues of the educated class--the love of languages, music, literature, and science. He quarreled harshly with John Adams, but his constant correspondence with his presidential predecessor ended in a frank exchange of ideas and a deep friendship; and Jefferson's sense of noblesse oblige inspired him to replace the Library of Congress' books lost in the War of 1812, but the need to fund his varied pursuits required him to sell rather than donate his personal library. He loved fine wines and an elegant table, but prescribed vegetarianism and doted on a diet of peas from his extensive gardens. He designed the University of Virginia's first campus, but withdrew from public life after his presidency. And his various internal contradictions compelled him to take up and drop varied intellectual pursuits throughout his life.

Maira Kalman's Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) conveys a sense of Thomas Jefferson's fabled foibles and enduring accomplishments and the impact of his beliefs upon the nation Jefferson helped found in a most attractive picture book format. Kalman's narration carefully enumerates the varied aspects of Jefferson's character and interests in simple, almost childlike prose, while her expressionistic illustrations ironically reveal more than her text: on one page Kalman reports that Jefferson visited Monticello's kitchen once a week to wind the clock, while the page portrays four slaves doing all the work to fill that fine table with no sign of their otherwise engaged master. Another page simply shows a telling facsimile of the Jefferson's slave ledger listing the Hemings family. As Kalman says in her closing. . .

I you want to understand
this country and its people

and what it means to be Optimistic
and Complex and Tragic and Wrong and
Courageous, you need to go to Monticello.

As a child's first biography of our third president, Kalman's is an exceptional picture book. The author also includes a Notes section, with thumbnail descriptions of the people, places, and events of Thomas Jefferson's life, and the endpapers that show the opening paragraph of his Declaration of Independence, with its enduring words, beginning with "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...."

Maira Kalman is also the author-illustrator of the notable Looking at Lincoln (See my February, 2013, review here) and her insightful exploration of ideas and leaders in the course of American democracy, And the Pursuit of Happiness.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Middle Child Milieu: Matilda in the Middle by Cori Doerrfeld

MATILDA WAS A LITTLE BUNNY WHO LIVED IN A BURROW WITH HER MOTHER, HER FATHER...

AND HER BROTHERS AND SISTERS--HER MANY, MANY BROTHERS AND SISTERS!

Matilda loves her family, but her brothers and sisters (over two dozen of them) are so busy that she feels lost in the crowd.

Her mother notices. And one day she tells her middle daughter...

"I WANT TO DO SOMETHING JUST FOR YOU.

SO I SIGNED YOU UP FOR BUNNY BALLET!"

That turns out to be a brilliant idea. Matilda takes to her dance lessons, and after a bit of newbie nervousness, she loves being in a relatively smaller group and resolves to practice at home until she catches up with her class.But practice has its problems in Matilda's crowded household. Releves are doable, but a grand tour jete' is out of the question. There's just no room! But Matilda does the best she can to get through the practice moves, and her teacher, Miss Mileu takes notice.

"MATILDA, MY DEAR, I WANT YOU TO DANCE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STAGE WHERE EVERYONE CAN SEE YOU!"

Matilda is daunted; she has never been the center of attention in her life, but bravely she tries to buck up her courage and practices harder than ever, even though no one in the family seems to know or care about her upcoming recital. But there is a startling surprise in store for her when the Matilda takes center stage as the curtain goes up!

EVERYONE IN HER FAMILY, FROM THE YOUNGEST TO THE ELDEST, WAS THERE!

Middle-child Matilda finds that her place right in the middle of a supportive family is the best place to be as she has her moment in the limelight, in Cori Doerrfeld's latest, Matilda in the Middle: A Bunny Ballet Story (Little, Brown and Company, 2015). Matilda is a determined main character who shows that even a middle child can find a way to stand out in the crowd. With the popularity of both bunnies and ballet coming together in this charmingly illustrated rabbit tale, Matilda is going to be a standout in the well-populated ballet book crowd as well.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Reap What You Sow: If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

IF YOU PLANT A TOMATO SEED,

A CARROT SEED, AND A CABBAGE SEED

WITH LOVE AND CARE

TOMATO, CARROT, AND CABBAGE PLANTS WILL GROW.

Rabbit and Mouse join forces to plant a garden, guarding their plot as the rain and sun coax seedlings out of the ground to leaf out in the sun. Soon the plants bear fruit, and the two proud gardeners dance a jig of joy.

But all unnoticed, the two farmers' efforts have been watched from above, and soon that plague of gardeners, a big black crow, swoops down to help himself to the bounty, followed by a blue jay, a cardinal, a dove, and a finch.

It's a standoff, as the rodents shout that the fruits of their labor should be theirs and the crow and his cronies scream that they are there to claim a share. A battle royale follows, and soon the neat garden is in shambles, a mess of smashed cherry tomatoes and splintered stalks and leaves.

This is NOT working.

IF YOU PLANT A SEED OF SELFISHNESS

IN TIME IT WILL GROW...

Then Mouse picks up one cherry tomato and hesitantly proffers it as a peace offering, With a truce in place, Rabbit and Mouse and their new feathered friends and their friends share what's left of the garden.

And these are friends with benefits. As gardeners know, birds have their own way of planting seeds, and to the delight of all, a new garden soon sprouts, this one from the many varied seeds that the birds bring--sweet melons, corn, rhubarb, and sunflowers as well--and there is a bountiful crop to feed all comers. a duck and a chicken, a squirrel and a raccoon.

THE FRUITS OF KINDNESS

ARE VERY, VERY SWEET.

Kadir Nelson's latest, If You Plant a Seed (Balzer + Bray Books, 2015) illustrates the mastery of the multiple award-winning Nelson in the art of the picture book. His spare text is a simple parable, every word just right, and his artwork is gorgeous, each bit of fur and feather gleaming with light and life. The humor in the body language of his animals, in their yelling contest and their free-for-all food fight, serves as a counterweight to the sweetness of the final sharing of their mutual harvest. There is a powerful premise at work here, set off by illustrations, at once realistic and interpretive, that show why Nelson has earned Caldecott and Coretta Scott King awards aplenty is his illustrious illustrative career. "A skillfully crafted story about the literal and allegorical fruits of the seeds we plant," points out Publishers Weekly.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

When You're Stylin', When You're Stylin'....: Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman

'Taters do it.
'Mater's do it.
Even Broccoli with a big 'do do it!
Let's do it!
Let's wear underwear!

Eggplants, cukes, onions, even little bitty peas do it. To put it, ahem! briefly: everybody's doing it, in Jared Chapman's jolly Vegetables in Underwear (Abrams Appleseed Books, 2015).

Every one in the veggie drawer in the fridge has, er, drawers, in stylish colors, as they strut their stuff across Chapman's bright white pages--everyone, that is, except the poor little baby carrots!

"BABIES DON'T WEAR UNDERWEAR.

THEY WEAR DIAPERS!

SORRY, BABIES!"

Undies come in all styles, sizes, colors, and even for all days of the week. There is old underwear, new underwear, clean underwear, and, unfortunately, dirty underwear in the hamper with the flies circling. There is over-sized underwear for onions, and too-brief underwear that shows a portly spud with cleavage on the backside. And isn't there always one in every family, those petite sweet peas that have a thing for doing a strip-tease right in the middle of everything?

It seems you can never have too much underwear literature, and Jared Chapman's new skivvies story has lots of underpant sight gags to keep even sophisticated third-grade kids giggling from the bottom up. For an unbare-ably funny pair, read this one with Todd H. Doodler's sweet and silly Veggies with Wedgies or Bear in Underwear books (see reviews here)

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant by Paul Gude

ELEPHANT WAS WOKEN UP BY A VERY LOUD NOISE.

"GIRAFFE! IT'S TOO EARLY FOR ALPINE HORNS!"

Since Giraffe is speechless, she tries to show her fondness for Elephant by serenading on the alpenhorn. Elephant tries to be tactful about the early morning honking but Giraffe is obviously hurt.

But she tries to make up for her faux pas. Elephant remarks that she has always wanted to go for a toboggan ride. She shows her friend a picture. Giraffe grabs a welding torch and stays up late to build a toboggan.Politely Elephant pulls it out to an open spot on the sunny savannah and Giraffe takes a seat behind her.

IT WASN'T AS MUCH FUN AS THEY THOUGHT IT WOULD BE.

Elephant tries to soothe her friend's feelings by promising Giraffe a surprise party and urges her friend to make a list of what she would like. Giraffe's requests are specific.

1. BALLOON ANIMALS

2. POLKA MUSIC

3. NO CAKE

Poor Giraffe's surprise party is certainly a surprise, even if it is not exactly what she asked for. Suffice it to say that request #3 turns out to be a large sheet cake with "NO" spelled out in frosting on top. But who can be disappointed with the efforts of such a good friend?

Fans of Mo Willem's Elephant and Piggie books will find the same deadpan delivery and odd-couple humor in Paul Gude's A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant (Giraffe and Elephant are Friends) (Hyperion Books, 2015). Gude's artwork is similarly simple but telling, with flat color and strong black lines delineating the characters, and minimalist storytelling that lets the understated expressions of his cartoon characters reveal the affection between his unlikely friends. Beginning readers will find this one easy going, and the charming naivety of Elephant and Giraffe will draw knowing giggles from slightly older kids.

For a double dose of Gude's sweet silliness, pair this one with its predecessor, When Elephant Met Giraffe (Giraffe and Elephant).

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Friday, April 24, 2015

FIRE!! I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 by Lauren Tarshis

"Amazing, isn't it?" said Mr. Morrow, smiling. "When I was born, Chicago was just a little town on the marsh. Today, Chicago is is one of the the most important cities in the world."

"It's beautiful," said Mama.

But suddenly Mama's expression darkened. "Does the sky look odd to you"" she asked, her brow wrinkling.

"Must be a fire," Mr. Morrow said matter-of-factly. "We're having fires practically every night now. The city is bone dry."

The word
fire sent a flash of fear across Mama's face.

"Don't worry," Mr. Morrow said, giving Mama a reassuring pat. "Chicago has one of the best fire departments in the country."

Oscar had not wanted to leave their farm in Minnesota, the one Papa and Mama had worked so hard to build. But Papa was dead, and Mama had married Joseph Morrow. The farm was sold and the new family boarded the train to begin their new life together in Chicago. "We'll have dinner at the Palmer House, and the fire will be over before we finish supper," Joseph Morrow had said.

But when Oscar is separated from Mama and Mr. Morrow on the busy streets, Oscar finds himself alone as fire begin exploding all around him. Sparks rain down, burning his skin and threatening to set his clothes on fire, and the explosions spread like the prairie wildfire he remembers from Minnesota. Oscar comes to the aid of a little girl and her three-year-old brother and decides to try to find his parents in the reputedly fireproof Palmer House. But when they finally push their way through the terrified crowds on the streets, they find the Palmer House itself in flames.

A wall of fire roared down the street. The wind gusted, a hot and poisonous blast. A blazing sheet peeled off the fire. It swirled through the air, a flaming twister more horrifying than anything Oscar could have imagined. Oscar stood there, frozen in fear.

Then he heard someone calling his name.

Lauren Tarshis' newest, I Survived #11: I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 (Scholastic Press, 2015), continues her top-selling fiction series about young Americans who survive historical disasters. Tarshis's taut storytelling and well-researched detail put young readers right in the middle of this event, an epic moment in time that will keep even reluctant readers flying through its 96 pages as Oscar and his new step-father fight their way through the flaming streets and swim the burning river to escape the Great Fire. For readers who want more, such as the historical backstory of the Great Fire, the author provides a question-and-answer section and bibliographic references for further research, including Chicago's noted website on this event.

Other books in the historical fiction I Survived series include I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79, I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912, I Survived #8: I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011, and I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001. (I Survived, Book 6)

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cuddly Creatures: Mommy Loves Baby by Troy Muilenburg

... AND BABY LOVES MOMMY.

Mommy love (and Daddy love, too) is the simple theme of Troy Muilenburg's Mommy Loves Baby (Curtis Christine Press, 2015).

Parent and child together--from the roly-poly pandas on the cover, the s-l-o-o-w-l-y snuggling sloths in the treetops, to the emperor penguin papa protecting his chick from the chill between his feathered feet-- all are shown in fond familial poses. A gorilla father offers a young one a juicy leaf, and Mama Elephant gently touches her trunk to her baby's in a shared kiss.

Author Troy Muilenburg's easily repeated refrains are set off in facing pages with illustrator Andrea Dickkut's soft but realistic portraits of mothers and fathers separately or together nurturing their little ones. This sturdy board book also teaches little ones the names and a bit about the habitat of animals from tiger to koala, rhinoceros to hippopotamus. The notes and chords for an accompanying song are printed at the bottom of each page of text, providing a bonus lullaby for little humans at bedtime.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Out-of-Body: The Trap by Steven Artnson

The last day of summer break before my seventh grade year was the first time I ever got punched in the face.

"Why are we spending the last day of vacation trying to help Carl?" I complained, wiping sweat from my brow as we four (me and my twin Helen with our best friends Alan and Nicki) pedaled along. Every kid around Farro was anxious about Carl. He was the worst bully in Johnson County and he'd gotten twice as bad this summer. I was terrified of him and plenty nervous about scouting around his secret hideout. But I was willing to, mainly because Carl was Alan's brother, and Alan was my best friend.

There was another reason I was out here today-- Helen's best friend Nicki. I had a crush on her
.

Henry is a worrier, and he's right to be afraid of encountering Carl in his hideout. Just as Henry crams the damp books hidden there into his rucksack, Carl appears and gives Henry his first black eye with one mighty punch. Helen jumps on Carl's broad back with a choke hold and in the melee', the four of them manage to escape on their bikes, with Carl bellowing strangely after them:

"I'm going to live forever!"

Carl's words make no sense to Henry, but that night Henry opens his rucksack, and one of the books, Subtle Travel and the Subtle Self by Abe Moller. intrigues him as soon as he reads the first page.

"You think you are one person in one body, but that is a fault of perception. In fact, you are one person in two bodies. Your second body: weightless, massless, flow--the subtle form. Learn: the physical sleeps; the subtle awakes."

The secret to awakening this other self requires repeating a series of numbers, Fibonacci numbers, as Henry learns, while falling asleep. Henry tries it.

Looking down at myself I saw that my arm, which I'd balanced upright, was lying on my chest. My body was sleeping peacefully. I could see the black eye starting up where Carl had punched me.

When Henry follows the book's directions to rise from his sleeping physical self he finds that he sees everything in the dark in a new way. Henry shares the secret with Helen, Alan, and Nicki, and while their physical selves sleep soundly, they set out to discover the link between the mysterious book and the missing Carl.

At first walking the night together as spirit forms in great fun, but soon what the friends discover is more strange and threatening than they could have imagined. The subtle world has its own practitioners and its own system of order, policed by NFTSA, the National Flux Travel Security Association, threatened by its prophet, Abe Moller, whose goal is to find a way to live forever, free from the inevitable death of his physical body. And, as Henry and his friends discover, Carl, the not-too-bright bully of Farro, Iowa, is unfortunately Moller's chosen guinea pig.

Steven Arntson's The Trap (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) combines his spot-on setting in rural Iowa in 1963 with a sort of hypernatural uber-world, part The Da Vinci Code, part Maxwell Smart's KAOS. Arntson deftly handles the juxtaposition of the very real small town world of  four early adolescents dealing with peers, alcoholic and unemployed parents, and the all-important fall prom date with an amoral but irresistible plane of existence that promises the hope of eternal life. Fans of the supernatural will recognize that the novel's quick conclusion begs for a sequel that reveals more of the rationale behind the author's subtle realm.

"An amazing blend of mystery, romance, science fiction and social commentary," says Kirkus in their starred review.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Doze-apalooza: SnoozeFEST by Samantha Berger

AT THE CENTER OF SNOOZEVILLE DWELLS THE SLEEPIEST SLOTH, SNUGGLEFORD CUDDLEBUN.

NOW THAT SLOTH COULD SLEEP, FOR MONTHS AT A GO.

THE FEW TIMES SHE RISES, SHE MOVES IN SLOW-MO.

But Snuggleford is not without her aspirations. Her passion is attending the biggest sleep festival in the land, the annual SnoozeFEST. She rests up all year to get in shape for the big event, packs her comfiest comforters, fluffiest feather bedding, and poofiest pillows, and heads over to the venue at the NuzzleDome.

All the pro sleepers stow their gear and head for vendors' row.

SNUGGLEFORD STROLLS THROUGH THE STANDS.

FOR POSTERS AND T-SHIRTS AND SWAG FROM THE BANDS.

She hits the hot-milk-and-honey bar for a retire-riffic toddy and settles into her homey hammock while the opening cradle-rocker bands--Dormant Gabbana, Louis Futon, Alexander McDream, Diane Firstinbed--do their sound checks. Then the house lights go down and Chamomile Rage take the stage for the first set, a real snore from the reactions of the crowd, who settle deep in their sleeping bags. Poets go up for a sleepy slam onstage, and the classical ensembles take the limelight-the Quiet Quartet, Tranquility Trio, Drowsy Duet, Sweet Dreams, and Deep Hiber-Nation--lulling the fest-goers into an altered state of soporific consciousness.

"I'll See You In My Dreams" is the theme song of Snuggleford Cuddlebun and the other somnolent concert-goers, in Samantha Berger's latest, Snoozefest (Dial Books, 2015). A "lazy, hazy" spoof of music festivals and the notorious energy of sloths, Berger buddies with artist Kristina Litton, who offers some sharp visual humor in her funny festival signage and the loveliest lantern-lit nighttime scenes since Brian Lies spotlighted his Bats in the Band (A Bat Book). Doubling as a tummy-tickling music festival takeoff or as a sleep-provoking bedtime story, this one hits the hay, um, mark right on target. Snooze on, Hiber-Nation!!

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Between the Dark and the Light: Ask the Dark by Henry Turner

I stopped.

A boy lay on the bank of the stream. He was naked, that boy, 'cept one shoe, with his body on the sand and rocks but his head partways in the water, his hair waving like weeds in the stream. I saw his face, all covered with cuts and blood.

I seen a piece of paper all red and bright, stuck to his dead ass. I bent over and snatched it up. I knew I couldn't just throw it over once I touched it, so I put it in my pocket.

Billy Zeets can't sleep. His dad's hurt, can't work, and their house is being foreclosed, and for some reason the dead, dark of night calls Billy, fitting his mood, and he wanders the streets and backyards and woods while the town sleeps. But when Billy finds the mutilated body of one of the boys in his town who have gone missing, Billy knows that someone else is using the night for darker purposes.

Billy is determined to find a way to make money to help his father, but he's just come out of a wild period, vandalizing and petty-thievery, and he's not high on anyone's hiring list. Occasionally working with Richie, a town n'eer-do-well who pays Billy to help load abandoned scrap metal into his pickup for sale, Billy is tempted to do a little shady junking himself, and on one nighttime expedition, he scales a tree up onto a roof and explores some promising storage boxes in the attic of Miss Gurpy, a once-well-to-do recluse, and finds one box filled with jewelry and vows to come back with a bag to carry it away.

Then Billy finds he's not the only one who knows what's in those boxes.

Coming into the room, I'd shut the door behind me. So what I done was step back maybe a yard, one big swooping step, to where I'd be behind the door if it opened. And all the while I was hearing somebody walking through the house. The footsteps stopped, and then they came on again, toward me. Whoever it was just come in the room and stood there.

Then I heard some shuffling and a light came on. Flashlight was that new kind that only shines where you point it. I don't think I breathed at all. I just stood there, three feet behind him.

All I could think was, If he turns, I'm caught.

'Course, I didn't know then who this fucker was, and that if he turned I was dead.

But working with Richie in a different house, Billy sees those same boxes, and something else. A sack of cement with a piece missing from the label, and Billy knows where that missing piece is--in his wallet where he'd saved it.

A little piece of torn red paper.

On my knees I went over to it, scuffing crost the floor, and where a piece was torn off the bag, I fit the piece.

It fit perfectly.

Now Billy thinks he knows who has been torturing and killing those boys in his town. And then he realizes that the murderer knows who he is and what he knows, too.

Henry Turner's Ask the Dark (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion Books, 2015). is a slow-building cat-and-mouse thriller that is as dark as its setting, taking place mostly in the dark of night and among the dark secrets of his small town. Billy is an unlikely hero, a seeming loser, but dogged and ultimately possessed of great moral courage as he stalks his psychopathic stalker to a climax in a dank cellar that will leave young adult readers breathless. With rough talk for which he often begs "Skuze my language," a protagonist from Hardtimesville who proves that despite it all, Billy Zeets is a winner. Fans of teen suspense thrillers will take to this one, set on the dark side of a leafy little town where there be monsters as dreadful as any dragons.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

What Came First! Egg: Nature's Perfect Package by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Eggs come in a fantastic range of sizes, shapes, and colors. Animals that lay eggs bury them, carry them, guard them, or simply leave them alone.

And each egg contains everything needed to create a new living creature.

If it's an animal, it's a sure thing that there was an egg involved somewhere in its past. Many animals lay them outside their bodies (even the mammalian echidna and platypus), and those who do so need to see that they stay warm or protected while they incubate. Sea turtles swim huge distances to lay eggs in sand with just the right summer temperature.  Bird parents sit on them, (or stand, in the case of the emperor penguin) and mouth brooders like the jawfish go hungry while they hold their eggs safe in their mouths. The spider wasp uses her venom to paralyze a spider and lays her eggs safely inside the quarry, with breakfast handy when they emerge. And, of course, the rest of us mammals keep our eggs on the inside, heated by our internal body heat to just the perfect temperature for maturation before they emerge to engage the weather outside.

It's an amazing and amazingly diverse process that goes on inside that incredible egg, as Steve Jenkins' and Robin Page's latest, Egg: Nature's Perfect Package (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). Jenkins builds his egg-cellent colorful images using cut- and torn-paper collage showing dozens of detailed animals, their eggs, and their offspring. Eggs as tiny as a single printed period  or up to the bigger-than-a-toaster egg of the extinct elephant bird are pictured in graduated sizes, and one double-page spread shows the stages of  development going on inside until a baby chicken and alligator emerge from their eggs.  There is even an appendix with thumbnail illustrations and information about all 54 egg-laying animals included in Sharon Page's cogent text.

Young readers who think of eggs as just something for breakfast will gain a new appreciation of these miraculous containers of life. As Kirkus Reviews says, "Appealing, accessible and accurate, this is another admirable creation."

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Just the Facts: Me And Dog by Gene Weingarten

MY NAME IS SID.
I'M JUST AN ORDINARY KID.

I MAKE MISTAKES.

MURPHY'S ORDINARY, TOO.

MURPHY'S PRETTY SMART, BUT HE THINKS A BIT TOO MUCH OF ME.

Sid is not ordinary in one way. He knows he's not as perfect and powerful as his little dachshund Murphy thinks he is. And instead if relishing the adoration, that bothers him. Murphy seems to think that Sid is the Ruler of the Universe. Sid knows he just a third grader who occasionally steps on his dog's tail, and when that happens, to Sid's dismay, Murphy seems to think that was because he had been bad. Sid worries about how he can make Murphy understand.

I WONDER IF HE MIGHT BE FEARFUL, OR LESS FRIENDLY, OR LESS CHEERFUL,

IF HE KNEW I'M NOT THE WIZ, OR MAYBE EVEN NO ONE IS!

The modern proverb making the rounds, "May I be as good as my dog thinks I am!" is the theme of Gene Weigarten's Me and Dog (Simon and Schuster, 2014), in which the introspective Sid worries about his appealing pooch's world view. Weingarten's illustrations of a winsome weiner dog are charming, and his humor shines in his clever rhymes. It's an uncommon concern of kids, but perhaps Sid's ruminations on canine cosmology will give some young pet owners something to think about. Says School Library Journal, "A winning example of fun and prose from an already established humor columnist, Me and Dog won't stay on the shelf for long."

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Leaves, Sleeves, Breezes and Freezes: A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel



Would you take chilly-weather-wear advice from this man?

Or would you prefer to take it from a tree?



"IT'S SNOWING!" SAID THE GIRL

"IT'S COLD OUTSIDE," SAID HER MOTHER. "YOU'D BETTER WEAR YOUR BOOTS!"

"EARMUFFS!" SAID HER FATHER

"SNOWPANTS!" SAID THE DOG. "GLOVES!" SAID LOUISE. "SWEATER!" SAID THE TREE.

"HAT!" SAID THE REFRIGERATOR.

Everyone, even the can of beans in the kitchen, is an expert on winter-wear, and the girl dutifully dons it, parka, gloves, scarf, and all. It takes a long time, but finally prepared for an Arctic blast, she stiffly stomps, Frankenstein-like, to the front door, ready for snow day fun.

But by the time she finally opens the door, winter is over and spring has sprung.

She gives the reader a disgusted look and beginning with one wool-socked foot, she crawls out of her winter wear through the parka hood, leaving it standing alone in the center of the living room.

"SO LONG!" SHE SAYS.

"SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!" SAYS HER OUTERWEAR.

Following a quick change of clothes, the girl emerges into spring in tutu and with her wand in hand.

Puppy is willing to play knight in armor to her princess, but her sleeping pussycat is not about to interrupt her nap for a anybody's spring fantasy.

That's pretty much it for spring, as the weather morphs into a heat wave. On a four-frame page the girl and Louise (her fuchsia hippo) are walking down the steamy sidewalk. The girl is hot. In fact, she's melting.

Really.

"GADZOOKS!" says Louise, seeing that the girl is reduced to a puddle on the walk. Thinking fast, Louise scoops the girl-puddle up into her GreatGulp cup and zooms inside to stash it in the in freezer while the girl reconstitutes herself  in the cup.  But Louise gets sacked out on the couch watching the latest installment of The Can of Beans Show, and when she remembers, the girl is back in shape but frozen in a block of ice. What to do?

Not to worry. It's still hot outside.

When Nick Bruel, cartoonist and author of the drop-dead funny Bad Kitty series,takes on the cycle of the seasons, you know it's going to be, er, different from the usual apple-tree-through-the-seasons with snowflakes and blossoms. There are those changes, of course, including a talking tree who changes color from green to gold to brown and sweetly saves its last leaf as a bookmark for the reading girl sitting underneath during the shedding season. But even the tree can't resist a bit of wardrobe advice:

"IT'S STARTING TO GET COLD. YOU'D BETTER PUT ON A SWEATER."

Bruel's latest, A Wonderful Year (Roaring Brook Press, 2015), takes a tongue-in-cheek tack on the usual story of the seasons, with his usual zany characters, unpredictable plotting, and meticulously drafted but wacky cartoon characters, done up in full- and four-frame page design. Bruel's language is easy enough for early readers, and the varied pages, some without text and some with mixed font sizes, keeps the focus on the story as it brings the year around full-circle. "Bruel offers surefire readaloud laughs as well as space for pondering," points out in Publishers Weekly's starred review.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Jie Jie! The Year of the Three Sisters by Andrea Cheng

In the middle of the night I hear a sound. It is Fan, trying to muffle her sobs in the pillow.

"Are you worried about your grandfather?" I whisper.

Fan looks at me in the dark. "Grandfather and Mama and.... Everything. And you and Andee."

She takes a deep breath. "Andee is your friend. And now you fight. It is my fault. Andee is not happy with me. I come to America for success. Not for fun. Andee is not patient."

"If she was patient, you would not be in America," I said.

When Andee and Anna visit their pen pal in China, they find that Fan has had to stop school and work as a hotel waitress to help support her migrant family in the city. Andee instantly decides that Fan should come to school in America for a year to gain the fluency in English that will open up opportunities for a better job in the hotel.

Andee's mother arranges everything, but when Fan arrives and moves in with Andee's family, Anna can see that things are not working out between her two friends. Andee is impetuous and talks too fast, and Fan refuses to join in family fun, constantly studying by herself with her door closed. Anna tries to help, but for once Andee won't talk to her, and Fan is stubborn and unwilling to change. The dream of a year of the three sisters isn't coming true for them.

But when Fan's beloved grandfather dies, in her grief she opens up to her American sisters, confessing how lonely and homesick she is, how strange she feels in Andee's big house and in her big high school, so different from her life at home. Even Andee listens, and the empathetic Anna reveals that she is lonely in middle school, too, with Andee now at high school. Andee confesses that even she feels alone, too, in her new school. The three girls see that they are all in new situations that make them feel isolated, but that their distance from each other is also a cause of their loneliness.

Andrea Cheng's fourth book in her Anna Wang series, The Year of the Three Sisters (An Anna Wang novel) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), shows best friends Anna and Andee moving into adolescence and experiencing the changes that time has brought to their relationship, and when they think about how many more changes Fan is going through, they find a way to make their friendship grow strong again. Author Cheng reveals the feelings of her characters skillfully in their own thoughts and words, a technique that helps readers interpret the emotions that come with changes. Most young adolescents feel like "strangers in a strange land" at times, that sense of living in two different worlds that children of immigrants feel in spades, and Cheng's novels provide a window into that world. "Cultural details are woven skillfully throughout, while [Patrice] Barton's comely illustrations add to the overall appeal. Another winner!" says School Library Journal.

Earlier books in this series are The Year of the Baby (An Anna Wang novel), The Year of the Book (An Anna Wang novel), and The Year of the Fortune Cookie (An Anna Wang novel).

For stories of slightly younger Chinese-American protagonists, there are also Newbery author Grace Lin's notable Pacy Lin books. (See reviews here.)

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shuteye Shortfall! Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) by Josh Schneider

IN THE JUNGLE, TOUCANS SNOOZE.
ALSO SLOTHS AND COCKATOOS.
IGNORING SNORING STRIPED HYENAS,
MONKIES DREAM THEY'RE BALLERINAS.

BUT NOT FRED.

As pajama-clad Fred brushes his teeth, his bulldog clambers into his bed, and his cat laps through his last wash-up. On his nightstand his ants snooze in their farm. On his bed a toy monkey, monster, and monkey hog Fred's pillow and his plush sheep is dozing, supine, feet in air.

But Fred's a lad who has a long to-do list, one that requires night-time overtime. While his beddy-bye pals get their ZZZs, Fred is loading up his sleepy-time scow, the USS Insomniac, with a bunch of brass band instruments for its nocturnal voyage.

In the jungle, cockatoos snooze on toucan's bills, the sloth seems to be sleeping (but how can you tell?), and somnolent monkeys dream of ballet in their tutus.

Not Fred, though. He practices leaping while the monkeys hoot at his jete'.

Down on the farm stinky hogs snore in rows and the sheep sleep, except for one count-keeping bookkeeper who schleps his antique adding machine to the sheep stall. One toucan seems to have nested with the hens, and a bit of tutu is in sight among the pig pile--until Fred blasts the barn to break the world shouting record.

At sea whales and jellyfish are asleep in the deep and ballet monkey, pig, toucan and sheep snooze in a rubber raft until the USS Insomnia steams into sight. Fred opens his act with the Alpen horn and blasts everyone awake.

Fred moves on.

SCARY THINGS THAT LURK AND SLINK

STOP ALL THAT FOR FORTY WINKS,

LIKE OTHER CREATURES NOT HERE LISTED--

MONSTERS, TOO (IF THEY EXISTED).

But Fred is still up and at 'em, inspecting the monster dormitory for the illusive Sasquatch.

Not even the most soporific of poetry books puts Fred out for the count, even though those farm hens are roosting on the headboard of the bed and one of the ballerina monkeys is sacked out underneath. But where is Fred? Has he succumbed at last to the siren call of sleep?

PLEASE, FOR NOW DON'T MAKE A PEEP.

JUST CLOSE THE BOOK AND LET FRED SLEEP.

Editor's Warning: Although the Library of Congress has classifed Josh Schneider's Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) (HMH Clarion Books, 2015) as a "bedtime" book, it's not an instant snooze inducer. Youngsters will be too busy perusing and pointing out funny stuff on each page to zip through this one before calling lights out. Theodor Seuss Geisel award-winner Scheider's rhyming couplets have their own linguistic humor, but his pages are packed with visual jokes for the sharp-eyed, wide-awake reader. Monkey ballet slippers have an opening for that pedal thumb, the accountant sheep wears a green eyeshade, and the smelly hogs' stalls have hooks for their little fir-tree air fresheners to hang on their tails. Jellyfish wear sleeping masks, a stray toucan keeps a low profile hanging upside down along with the monster bats, and Sasquatch's Bigfoot shoes give away his bunk. There are lots of giggles hiding in plain sight among Schneider's jolly ink-and-watercolor illustrations that will keep pages turning backward and forward until readers quietly close the book to keep Fred asleep!

Pair this one with Doreen Cronin's recent bedtime hit, Click, Clack, Peep! (Read review here.)

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