BooksForKidsBlog

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Compromised: Santa; by Nicola Mar

"I'm so--so sorry, June. I shouldn't have left you," Alice cries. She is hugging me and I push her away.

Only a few bruises have become visible. "How could they do this, June?" Alice cries with me. But these are not questions that can be answered.

"You must tell the police," she demands. "I can't let you ignore this."

"No, Alice, promise me you won't do anything," I beg. "Please. If this gets out, I might as well kill myself. My life will be over."

She shakes her head. "Why would you want to let them get away with this? How many other girls do you think there have been? They will do this again if you don't say something."

I know she's right, but the only person I can think about is Mama.

June knows she is lucky to have a popular friend like Alice. Overweight, shy, and virtually invisible in her high school, June agrees to sneak out for a late-night party with Alice.

At first it is fun. A couple of drinks and some banter with the crowd in the kitchen make her feel less self-conscious, one of the group. But as the alcohol takes effect, June begins to feel nauseated and disoriented. She looks around for Alice, but someone tells her she's left, and she suddenly feels terribly alone.

Feeling she's going to throw up, June frantically looks for a bathroom in the strange house, and finding it, she rushes inside. The toilet is almost overflowing, and June leans against the wall and sinks to the floor. The next thing she remembers is being sexually assaulted by some of the football players, boys she scarcely knows.

When she comes to, her face in the filthy floor, June only thinks of escape. She stumbles out of the house and walks home, managing to get into her house without waking her mother . But the worst is yet to come. One of the boys has taken photographs of her lying unconscious on the bathroom floor and begins to post them on the internet. Soon quiet, studious June finds herself a pariah, beginning a downward spiral which leads to attempts at suicide.

It is a old, familiar story, one as old as mankind, yet repeated with each new generation, and in her novel Santa; author Nicola Mar spares none of the wrenching details of this experience nor its aftermath, the shame and depression that lead June to two suicide attempts. The author's narration of June's attack and the desperate days afterward is strong, honest, and affecting, although many readers will be disappointed in her contrived, deus ex machina conclusion, filled with dream sequences populated by bright lights, an angel named Santa, and... yes, a rainbow. Still, forewarned is forearmed, and Mar's novel may well serve as a cautionary tale for young adult readers--beware, and be there for each other.

A portion of the proceeds of this book are directed to Mar's organization, Project Semicolon.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

A Single Race of the Dead: People of the Plague by T. Neill Anderson

Barium could see Mr. Milani on the right, lying on his back. His face was darkened, and his nose and mouth were covered with dark red blood. He looked at Mrs. Milani, curled up beside her husband. Her face was the same purplish blue. They were both gone.

Barium stepped out of the Milani's apartment building. While waiting for him, Harriet and Harry Milani had drawn a hopscotch course on the sidewalk, and now they were jumping through it. Harry giggled, and Harriet laughed and rolled her eyes at her little brother's rule-breaking.

Barium smiled at the two children, whose lives he knew would never be the same. He wanted to stretch out this time, when they didn't know the truth and could play without realizing that darkness had already descended. He knew he didn't want them to see their parents that way. He'd have to tell them the truth soon. But for now--just right now--he wanted to let their blissful ignorance last.

Harry saw Barium and leaped up. "Can we get some candy at the store?"

"Might as well," Barium said.

The influenza epidemic of 1928 killed over fifty million people worldwide. Philadelphia was hit especially swiftly and hard, when a few cases in the Navy Yard spread wildly following a huge city parade to raise money for the war. People were struck down suddenly, in the midst of their day, and soon were gasping for breath. The quick destruction of their lungs caused the tell-tale cyanosis, a purplish-blue color spreading over their body from lack of oxygen from lungs swiftly destroyed by the virus. Available hospital beds filled in a few days, and the city utilized any building with space for cots and the volunteer workers that could be found to take the possibly fatal jobs. All public events were forbidden. Churches, schools, and factories were closed. And when the hundreds of bodies stacked up faster than they could be buried, Catholic seminaries sent their theology students to dig mass graves for the dead.

It was a time of wretched horror, heartbreak, and unimaginable courage. T. Neill Anderson's Horrors of History: People of the Plague: Philadelphia Flu Epidemic 1918 (Charlesbridge, 2015) brings the dramatic story of this modern plague home to young adult readers, centering around three groups of young people--Barium and his relatives, the Milani family, Leo, Tim, and Thomas, seminary students, and Sister Katharine and the other young nurses and medical student Dr. Lawrence, who worked in the death wards, giving what comfort they could to the dying. Anderson uses well-developed characters, both real and imagined--including Dr. Wilmer Krusen, head of public health for the city, who struggled to find ways that the healthy could be protected, the sick could be cared for, and the dead could be buried through the two months that the disease raged.

Anderson tells it like it was, with actual black and white period photos and imagined but authentic dialog and grim and frightful episodes that cannot help but make the scene deeply felt by young adult readers who have the recent Ebola epidemic fresh on their minds. Not all of his characters survive the epidemic. Little Harry Milani sickens before he finishes the Tootsie Roll Barium bought him; seminarian Leo falls sick on the train after the first day of gravedigging, and the student Dr. Lawrence collapses in the ward as he records his patients. Dr. Krusen survived, and Harriet, Barium, Tim and Thomas, and Sister Katharine lived on, eyewitnesses to one of history's worst plagues.

Thanks to the progress of medicine, the strain of virus which led to this disease has been recovered from victims buried in 1918 in Arctic permafrost, and its DNA has revealed that it was a deadly mutation of the still common bird flu. Public health agencies are stronger now and governments have more experience with disasters, but with most of the survivors of this disease now gone, much can be learned from a realistic historical fiction portrayal of an unpredictable and deadly epidemic. The details of the 1918 flu can and should be disturbing, but for those hardy readers who value the truth, this gripping account has much to teach young adult readers in the way of human compassion, courage and devotion to duty.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Storm of the Century: City of the Dead: Galveston Hurricane, 1900 by T. Neill Anderson

The young reporter sat in a small rowboat in Galveston Bay, not believing his eyes. Human bodies bumped against the boat. This is what the end of the world looks like, he thought.

He finally reached the shore on the south side of the island. He stood on the beach and watched men pull bodies from the sand. One man in particular was struggling to lift the tiny body of a very young boy. Something was keeping the body buried in the sand. Seeing a length of clothesline around the boy's waist, he pulled on the line. Yet another body emerged--a girl this time, also with clothesline tied around her waist. The man followed the line. After more digging the man unearthed two more girls, locked in a horrified embrace, their wet hair intertwined.

Trembling, through his tears he saw that the last boy was holding on to something. The man pulled once again on the line. It was the body of a nun. Her eyes were open, gazing up at the sky.

Young readers in middle and high school no doubt remember something of the destruction and misery caused by Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy, but even these storms pale in comparison to the grim statistics of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Coming at the dawn of the twentieth century, communication was limited to telegraph and local telephone systems, and no one on the offshore island of Galveston had any idea what was about to strike the virtually defenseless city, the largest in Texas at the time, that rose less than five feet above sea level at its highest point. The town was accustomed to wind storms, and despite a few oddities about this storm, almost no one expected what was about to hit them.

On the day before the hurricane, Dr. Sam Young, a weather hobbyist, walked the four blocks from his house to the Gulf beach and noticed something unusual.

He watched the rising water lapping at the streetcar trestle. The rain was really falling, and the increasing wind was coming from the north. Normally when the wind came from the north, the tide would be low.  On Wednesday the tide was high and the water was rough, but the air was completely still. Something in the Gulf must be pushing the water. Thursday was the same--but one thing was different--a haziness in the atmosphere. Sam knew that usually preceded a serious storm.

And what followed was what we now call a perfect storm.

T. Neill Anderson's Horrors of History: City of the Dead (Charlesbridge) tells the true story of survivors and victims of the most devastating storm ever to strike North America in terms of destruction and death.  Sam Young himself survived, after retreating from the waters that crept up to the top floor of his house, by wrenching a door from the top floor balcony off its hinges and riding it like a raft until the wind and water ripped it apart, forcing him to swim to the pile of debris forming at the center of the island. Only a few hours after they had played in the water rising from the beach, orphan boys William, Frank, and James disobeyed Sister Elizabeth's urging that they tie themselves to her as St. Mary's Orphanage disintegrated around them, and were miraculously discovered alive the next day, clinging to an unrooted tree several miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. And Daisy Thorne, her mother, and a few neighbors clung to her bed as the building crumbled, except for her bedroom. Few buildings survived the hurricane, and the thousands of bodies made the formerly prosperous and beautiful city a place of horror for the survivors.

Author T. Neill Anderson follows the story of other characters, some imagined, who were less fortunate than these survivors, as falling buildings, blowing debris, and ocean waves took their lives in a relentlessly realistic portrait of the biggest natural disaster in American history. That Galveston rebuilt itself is a testament to human resilience, one that young readers will surely recognize. Anderson's provides a map, an appended epilogue and author's notes which revisits his survivors and provides the subsequent story of the city's revival, but stands as a warning to what happens without the communication and social structure we now try to maintain against natural disasters.

Even reluctant readers will find themselves in the grip of this story, unable to stop turning those pages, as this historical event plays itself out in this grim but highly readable piece of riveting historical fiction.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Shovels and Rifles: The Massacre of the Miners (Horrors of History) by T. Neill Anderson

The sun rose, casting gauzy shards of light over the ruins of the Ludlow tent colony. The camp had been home to more than a thousand people, but now it was in ashes. Militiamen moved among the few tents that remained, looting what few valuables they could find.

In the second row a disheveled woman crawled out from under the floorboards of a burnt tent. She clambered out of one of the many pits dug under the tents as hiding places for the women and children.

"Please!" she shouted, waving her hands above her head. "My children!" A militiaman stepped down into the pit and shone his torch in front of him. He stopped and sucked in his breath.

On the dirt floor in font of him was a jumble of charred clothing and the twisted, lifeless bodies of two women and almost a dozen children.

Few young adult readers realize that there was a time when employers could lawfully require workers to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. In the Paterson, New Jersey, strike of 1835, textile workers sued their company to gain an eleven-hour day and six-day work week. The long history of labor goes back for centuries, dotted with violent events--the Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania, the Battle of the Viaduct in Chicago, the Bread and Roses Textile Strike in Lawrence, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Strike and subsequent fire which got the attention of the nation--all featured retribution and violence between workers and company guards.

But the event which finally triggered new attitudes across the nation was the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado in 1914. Although the death count was not as high as some earlier encounters, the collusion of the Colorado National Guard with the mine owners, who included J. D. Rockefeller, and the graphic photos of women and children suffocated in the fire set by the militia men prompted eventual investigation and action in Congress. By that time newspapers circulated widely and front pages featured photos from the torched and looted coal miners' tent city, each picture worth the proverbial thousand words.

T. Neill Anderson's Horrors of History: Massacre of the Miners: A Novel (Charlesbridge, 2015) follows several families and features children and young teenagers's experiences in the standoff of the two armed camps and the unnecessary actions which triggered the event. The author traces the death of twelve-year-old Frank Snyder, shot while retrieving some bread to take back to his family hiding underground, and tells the story of Helen Korich, still wearing her white Easter dress, who fled the hail of bullets carrying her baby sister to the safety of a nearby ranch.

Keep up, ladies!" the only man in the group shouted. "No time to waste."

The man reached his hand out to Helen's mother. A bullet suddenly screamed just over Helen's head, and Kristina shrieked. Helen saw that the bullet had rippled through the man's head and blasted away a large piece of his skull. Helen saw blood on her mother's sleeve.

"Mom! Give the baby to me!" she called.

It seems incredible that National Guardsmen were firing on their fellow citizens over issues like allowing the miners to buy their food at stores other than the company store, but it all happened not so very long ago in American history. Anderson's book, filled with strikingly clear photos of the miners and their children and militia taken at the time--a girl with long braids holding her best doll contrasted with photos of Guardsmen shooting into the camp from an ore car, drive home the understanding that our history is the story of real people trying to do the right thing. Gripping passages describing the efforts of the miners' families to survive will keep the full attention of young readers. The author appends a factual epilogue and author's note with a list of the victims, twelve of which were infants and children. This historical novel takes a real look at the people, the children, and the leaders on both side who lived through this tumultuous period, providing a look at one of our darker moments. Says School Library Journal, "The plethora of back matter and other nonfiction elements make this novel a good fit for classroom literature circles or as part of a library booklist or display about mining life."

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

It's How You Play The Game! Win or Lose I Love You! by Lysa TerKuerst

"Today is the field day competition to choose the leader of the forest," Lulu explained. "We get to be the judges!

"But," she said, "we might have to help them. The winners will be doing happy dances, but the losers might be sad, and maybe a little mad."

Lulu is right to be concerned about personal problems. As soon as Coyote wins the costume contest for the best feathery wing, he shows off, with "excessive celebration." Goosey logs her protest.

"My wings are real!" Goosey wailed.

Coyote is the perfect example of a poor winner, and Goosey is the model of a sore loser. Bear-Bear stops the meltdown in its tracks by quickly congratulating Coyote and praising Goosey for providing the inspiration for Coyote's wings.

Everyone anticipates the pie-tasting contest, but Lulu moves things along to the obstacle race. Coyote starts a bit of trash talk with his opponents, pointing out that he's been practicing for ages, and besides, he always been the fastest in the forest anyway. In fact, he's so busy bragging that he misses the Ready, Set, GO!

"No fair! I wasn't ready!"

But even with his bad start, Coyote is swift, and Goosey barely manages to waddle across the finish line first.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Howling loudly, Coyote has a full-fledged tantrum. He stomps over and kicks over the table holding the five prize pies. Everyone is aghast!

But again Bear-Bear steps in to help, urging everyone to pitch in and clean up the mess and enjoy the picnic Lulu and Max have made for them. But Coyote is seen slinking away from the scene.

Lulu found coyote, "I'm the worst animal in the Forest," he moans.

But Lulu has the last word.

"You may not win, but you must try.

Sometimes you'll lose, but there's no need to cry.

Win or lose, one thing that's true--
No matter what, I love you!

Helpful Bear-Bear is clearly the Leader of the Forest, in Lysa TerKuerst's tribute to sportsmanship, Win or Lose, I Love You! (Lulu and Her Tutu) (Thomas Nelson, 2015), which makes well the point that bad winners and poor losers spoil the fun for everyone, and peacemakers can be winners in the game of life. TerKuerst's rivalrous characters ring true, and artist Jana Christy's delightful little watercolor illustrations tell the story all on their own. Win some, lose some, it's how you play the game!

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Can-Do Gumshoe: Shark Detective by Jessica Olien

SHARK LIVED ALONE IN A HOTEL ROOM IN THE CITY.

HE LOVED WATCHING DETECTIVE SHOWS.

AT NIGHT HE DREAMED THAT HE WAS A DETECTIVE.

And then lonely Shark spots a poster advertising a reward for finding a lost cat.

HE KNEW WHAT HE HAD TO DO...
HE WOULD BECOME... SHARK DETECTIVE!

In trench coat and deerstalker, with magnifying glass in hand, Shark sets out to investigate. He researches in the library and practices Tai Chi in private. With a copy of the lost kitty poster in hand, he sets out to question potential witnesses in the neighborhood. He has a little problem getting witnesses to open up to him:

"SHARK!

DON'T EAT ME!" THEY SCREAM.

SHARK WAS BEGINNING TO THINK THAT HE WASN'T CUT OUT TO BE A DETECTIVE.

But as the defective would-be detective heads home to his hotel, he gets a break in the case. Down a dark alley he hears a sad "Meow!" It's the missing cat! And when he tells the wandering kitty that he is a detective on his case, the kitty (conveniently named Watson) is overjoyed for help with the mystery of his missing mouse.

"A DETECTIVE! THAT'S WHAT I NEED.

If a shark in a Sherlock deerstalker isn't goofy, I don't know what is. Jessica Olien's just-published Shark Detective! (Balzer and Bray, 2015) has this unlikely gumshoe searching the urban cityscape for a lost kitty cat (with mouse toy) in a classic movie-trope-filled take on finding a missing cat, a sidekick, and career all in Shark's first case. There's a satisfying solution to the story, but the real fun is in cartoonist Olien's choice illustrations of lonely guy Shark scarfing chips and watching endless film noir detective flicks in his fleabag hotel, Investigator Shark attempting to question, um, reluctant witnesses, and Sherlock Shark and Watson hanging out their shingle, sleuths together.

CAT AND SHARK--DETECTIVES

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Invader Persuader! Mind Your Monsters! by Catherine Bailey


WALLY ENJOYED A QUIET, NORMAL LIFE...

UNTIL ONE DAY MONSTERS INVADED HIS SMALL TOWN AND MADE A MESS OF EVERYTHING.

The invading monsters eschew etiquette!

The zombies lose their heads as they nosh on the lampposts. The vampires vanquish the screaming kids from the park.

The werewolves empty the sidewalks as they wander growling through the town.

And they were as stinky as rotten eggs!

Wally tries ignoring the monsters, but the vampires' roarings are scary. He tries gentle requests and stern statements, but the monster mash continues.

The vampires and werewolves go on right on wrecking the town. The folks in town try to flee, but a giant octopus sink the boats in the harbor and an ogre occupies the main road out.

Something has to be done.

WALLY WAS FED UP!

"WILL YOU PLEASE STOP BREAKING ALL OUR STUFF?" WALLY SHOUTED.

The monsters stop their mayhem. In fact, from that moment they are on their best behavior. The secret must be the magic word ... PLEASE!

There are many and varied critters in this monster mashup, in Catherine Bailey's Mind Your Monsters (Sterling Books, 2015), a gentle introduction to the scary characters of the spooky season, with an added plug for minding Ps and Qs in public and always saying "please!" Artist Oriol Vidal plants plenty of sight gags in the background as the citizens and the roaming monsters have some silly encounters, while the monsters themselves are clearly very un-scary, just as the preschool audience of this book might prefer. For the littlest monster mavens, pair this one with Natalie Marshall's Monster, Be Good!

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Be It Ever So Humble...: Homes (Picture This) by Judith Nouvian; translated by Vali Tamm

VILLAGE WEAVER BIRDS LIVE IN A VILLAGE OF HANGING NESTS.

THEY LIKE TO HANG OUT TOGETHER!

Lots of animals like to hang together!

Bees build wax hives--with hexagonal cells that can be used as nurseries for all the babies or as pantries filled with sweet provender.

Sand martins tunnel out their penthouse apartments side by side in the faces of steep cliffs. It's a quick commute to work!

And sociable weaver birds work together to build treetop haystack apartments where they have up to five-hundred friends to hang out with.

But some animals go for single-family houses--from the osprey couple who go it alone in their messy stick-built homes, to the baby bagworm caterpillar who secretes silk and pulls in bits and pieces from the branch for the cocoon where he hangs out until he emerges as a moth. Desert fennec foxes don't need company for warmth, so they dig a solitary burrow below ground to keep cool. And talk about giving the neighbors the cold shoulder! A polar bear moms digs a den down into the ice and snow before her baby is born.

Some animals really work at constructing their homes. Paper wasps have to chew up a lot of dry wood to form their oblong nests. Beavers work (like beavers) all summer to build and stock provender for their underwater winter homes. Bowerbirds scour their landscapes for anything blue to decorate their home--flowers, trash, whatever, so long it is the right hue of blue!  And the industrious little weaver ant spins twigs and leaves together with its own silk to form elegant nests in the trees.

And then there are the squatters. The clownfish has an symbiotic understanding with his landlord, the sea anemone.Don't taze me, bro!

WHICH ANIMAL DOESN'T NEED TO BUILD A HOME?

A TURTLE!

WHEREVER IT GOES, ITS HOME GOES TOO!

Animals have as varied an idea of where to hang their hats as we humans do, as we see in Judith Nouvian's fascinating new picture essay, Homes (Picture This) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).  Up close and personal photos show these animal homes in detail, from beautiful, sparkling-with-dew spider webs to unsightly but functional beaver dam lodges. A concept book that fits right in with primary units and a nature study that reveals the unlimited variations in animal behaviors for young learners, this is a must-have for the shelves of libraries and early childhood education classrooms.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Don't Open That Door! In the Haunted House by Eve Bunting and Susan Meddaugh

THIS IS THE HOUSE WHERE THE SCARY ONES HIDE.

OPEN THE DOOR AND STEP SOFTLY INSIDE.

Who can resist the invitation to visit a haunted house? It's tall. It's dark. And the door is ajar.

Two kids take the challenge.

AN ORGAN IS PLAYING A FUNERAL AIR.

IT'S PLAYING AND PLAYING, BUT NOBODY IS THERE.

Only the running feet of the two children are seen, speedily exiting page right.

But there are more scary creatures to be revealed by strategically placed flaps. There's an old chest with a DO NOT LIFT sign, and of course the two kids must lift the lid, to reveal a rising Frankenstein monster. In an upstairs bedroom, a tall door hides--what else--a skeleton in the closet! There are touchy-feely flocked bats in the belfry, and a sleeping vampire in the old claw-footed bathtub. The kids make a quick tour, as evidenced by their retreating feet exiting each room, and finally their feet are seen clattering down the twisted stairway. But wait! What's there on the other side of the front door? Witches and a jack-o'-lantern? But beyond them the kids can see their waiting dad outside!

INTO THE DAY THAT IS A-SPARKLE WITH SUN.

HALLOWEEN HOUSES ARE OH-SO-MUCH FUN!

The Caldecott award-winning author Eve Bunting provides the catchy couplets and noted artist Susan Meddaugh, creator of the Martha Speaks series, combine talents in the spiffed-up and attractive paperback version of In the Haunted House Touch and Feel Lift-the-Flap Book (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), a lift-the-flap book that provides youngsters a vicarious trip through a haunted house before they encounter one at a neighborhood Halloween carnival. Meddaugh's illustrations offer mildly spooky comic scenes with the clever device of never showing the children's reactions--just their sneakers, hot-footing it through the haunted house, to add to the fun. A nice Halloween treat, with rhyming lines that are easy to read aloud. Read this one with Eve Bunting's classic Scary, Scary Halloween, and the group-participation superstar, Linda D. Williams' wonderful The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. or Dav Pilkey's hilarious The Hallo-wiener. And for fans of Susan Meddaugh's Helen and Martha, there is her nifty Halloween story of the pre-alphabet soup Martha, The Witches' Supermarket. (8x8 with stickers) (Martha Speaks).

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Move Over! Ten Monsters In The Bed by Katie Cotton

"WAIT!

BEFORE YOU START: THIS BOOK HAS MANY MONSTERS
FALLING TO THE GROUND.

PRESS EACH ONE THAT'S ON THE FLOOR TO HEAR A FUNNY SOUND!"

The bed's too small, and that's not all!

Ten monsters are jammed into the top bunk bed, and no one is happy! Too many freaky bodies and way too many noises!

Give 'em the boot!

THE BURPY ONE WAS WAS PRETTY PROUD.
HE THOUGHT HIS BURPS THE BEST.

THE OTHERS BUMPED HIM TO THE FLOOR,
THEY REALLY WEREN'T IMPRESSED.
B-u-u-r-r-p!

And so it goes. The Snorer goes over, the Sneezer is out in the cold, and the itcher is scratched from the list, as all head overboard. Ditto for the Muncher, the Hiccupper, and the Slurper. And the rude noises are just getting started, as the next-to-last monster noise gets off the biggest guffaw of all....(and no, dear reader, I'm not tellin' with what) in Katie Cotton's boisterous counting book, Ten Monsters in the Bed (Little Bee Books, 2014), filled with wacky, quirky, and silly monsters, done up in riotous colors and squiggly shapes. This one is a fun and sugar-free surprise for the trick-or-treat bag for that special little giggler on your list.

Preschoolers who prefer a touch of the ribald will jump at a chance to push the magic button on this "toy and movable book." As Kirkus Review forthrightly puts it, "Setting new standards for gross sound effects, 10 monsters snore, scream, scratch, hiccup, belch, or worse."

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Max the Brave by Ed Vere

Like the youthful heroes of yore, Max is ready to go out on his first quest. Being a little black kitty hero, his chosen monster is the fabled Mouse. There's just a miniscule problem...

MAX NEEDS TO FIND OUT WHAT A MOUSE LOOKS LIKE.

Tired of being called "Sweet Kitty" and wearing a cutesy bows, Max dresses the part of caped crusader and is all settled to show his mettle in the conquest of The Mouse, just as soon as he figures out just what he looking for.

He approaches an empty tin can. He bravely calls out a challenge:

"MOUSE! ARE YOU IN THERE?"

A housefly flits out. Surely that cannot be the legendary Mouse!

Max stalks the goldfish bowl and repeats his query:

I AM FISH, BUT I JUST SAW MOUSE DASH OUTSIDE," SAYS GOLDFISH.

Outside, Max sees a flock of birds. No, they're not Mouse, but they just happened to see Mouse scooting by. Pink Elephant ("Eeeekkk!") and Rabbit ("Thataway!)" give Max the same bum steer. At last he stumbles upon a likely-looking little critter with whiskers and long tail; Hmmm! This looks do-able!

"ARE YOU MOUSE, BY ANY CHANCE?" MAX POLITELY INQUIRES.

"WHO, ME?" SAYS MOUSE. "CERTAINLY NOT. I'M MONSTER, BUT I DID JUST SEE MOUSE SLEEPING OVER THERE...."

Just a cartoon mouse Jerry always gives Tom the cat the runaround, Mouse cleverly identifies Green Monster as The Mouse, and after consideration of his considerable big teeth and even bigger mouth, Max the Brave throws in the towel, er, cape, in Ed Vere's quirky cat and mouse tale, Max the Brave (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2015). Vere's small centered illustrations, limited to Max and his current tete a' tete partner, and his understated but super-polite text, give this one a wry twist on the hero story in which Max the Brave eschews chasing and morphs into, maybe not Max the Wise, but certainly Max the Expedient. "A cat-and-mouse game to be laughed at and re-read," quips Kirkus Reviews.

Ed Vere's other books include Max At Night, and Bedtime for Monsters.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Seriously Seeking Darkness! Turn Off That Light! by John Crossingham

Click!

...zzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

ZZZZ--"Snork!"

"TURN OFF THAT LIGHT!"

A little sleeping hedgehog is awakened by someone suddenly flipping the switch of his bedroom light.

The light switch is clicked and off go the lights.

It's back to dreamland, until...

Click!

"Huh?! Wuzzak?!

WHO KEEPS DOING THAT!"

Little Hedgehog rubs his offended eyes. He must get a good look at the prankster who is turning his light on and off.

Click! He's feeling his way across the room when he encounters a body/ He'll show that interloper whose room this is! Wacks and zaps ensue.

With another Click! Hedgehog sees that he's just beaten the stuffing (literally) out of his toy rabbit!

"Bunny?"

Muffled in mounds of pink plush bunny stuffing, Hedgehog tries to take control of the confusion by plugging in his own version of a trouble light! There's got to be some reason for this midnight switch flipping! He's going to nip that flipper!

"What? I said what? I asked for a drink of water?"

There is a logical reason for this midnight melee'. And, as is the wont in these crazed days of interactive picture books, it's customary to blame it all on the reader.

Yes, YOU, dear reader! You're the one who keeps making the lights come on--BY TURNING THOSE PAGES! Crossingham's droll hedgehog denies all culpability. He couldn't have asked for a drink of water and then fallen sound asleep, could he?

"I DID? Soooo... glug, glug, glug!"

In John Crossingham's latest, big-eyed little Hedgehog, sporting quills that end in a Mohawk do, stars in a very unique little bedtime story. Set against illustrator Steve Wilson's dark, shiny pages with wavering shadows and cartoon-style speech balloons, our anti-hero hedgehog sorts out the problem grumpily, and with a page turn and a final CLICK, he's finally off to sleep. Or is he? The pages are all turned. What else could happen?

"I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM...."

There's always the closing endpaper in John Crossingham's Turn Off That Light! (OwlKids Books, 2015), a quirky interactive story with a role for young readers.   Hey!  Dear Reader...  Don't close that cover... YET!

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Wicked Weird: My Rotten Friend by Stephanie J. Blake


SHE'S MY BEST FRIEND.

BUT I WON'T LIE.

PENELOPE SMELLS

LIKE SOMETHING DIED.

And while everyone else in the class is growing, Penelope seems to be, er, losing it.

Teeth, well, sure. Everyone in class loses one now and then. But Penelope is... kinda running low on them. That doesn't stop her from biting now and again, though. And one day she turned up missing ... (I hate to say it) an eyeball. Flies begin to circle her head.

Penelope's a real gross-out girl. She's acting strange, too.

SHE SAID SHE'S IN AN EATING MOOD.

BUT SHE DIDN'T WANT TO SHARE MY FOOD.

And when Penelope bites a coach, she has to leave school.

I HAVE TO TAKE MY BEST FRIEND HOME.

I RIDE MY BIKE. SHE JUST SHUFFLES ALONG.

Birds fall out of the trees and cats run away shrieking, as Penelope drops a few body parts along the sidewalk.

Some friendships have their ups and downs, and when your best friend's interests are centered on a "zombie buffet," the relationship seems doomed, in Stephanie J. Blake's My Rotten Friend (Albert Whitman and Company, 2015). Illustrator Mariano Epelbaum adds to the satire, setting the story in a cartoon-style idyllic, picket-fenced town, while author Blake has freaky fun spoofing all the usual zombie tropes in a story that will appeal to kids bored with friendly ghosties and winsome witches but with a stomach for the undead genre and like their Halloween tales with a ghastly tongue-in-cheek twist.

For funny zombie stories that offer a kitchy heartwarming twist, try Kelly DiPucchio's Zombie in Love and Zombie in Love 2 + 1 (see reviews here)

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Zombie Outlier: Peanut Butter and (Jelly) Brains: A Culinary Zombie Tale by Joe McGee


REGINALD WAS NOT LIKE THE OTHER ZOMBIES.

THE OTHER ZOMBIES WANTED BRAINS.

ALL REGINALD WANTED WAS PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY.

There's one in every crowd. All the other zombies in town shuffle around in search of brains for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, mumbling....

"BRAINSSSS!!"

All Reggie wants to eat is PB and J sandwiches. But even in the school lunchroom, he strikes out, getting a tray with a big hunk of meatloaf instead. URRKKK! he thinks. Too much like brains!

While the good citizens of Quirkville are running, shrieking, from the zombies, Reginald follows a different drummer, moaning a different tune....

"NO BRAINSSS! PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY!

SWEET JELLY!"

And then Reginald's beady little eyes spot something hopeful. There's a girl at the bus stop, holding a brown paper lunch bag with the telltale stains of peanut butter and jelly. He snatches her lunch, but before he chows down... an altruistic thought passes through Reginald's zombie brain.

"IF THEY COULD JUST SMELL THE PEANUT BUTTER!" REGINALD THOUGHT.

Can Reggie make vegans out of a pack of drooling zombies? You bet your brains he can, in Joe McGee's jolly Peanut Butter & and Jelly Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale (Abrams Books, 2015). Noted artist Charles Santoso's illustrations offer less-than-scary zombies who prove receptive to culinary change in a story filled with sight gags of shambling undead, all stumbling through the terrorized town, all with outstretched arms and thought bubbles with one image--BRAINS! Even the endpapers document the dietary shift in a tale with almost zero frightfulness that will be a welcome addition to the scary season's readalouds. "Run, don't shamble, to get this original zombie tale," exhorts Kirkus Reviews!(And keep a PB 'n' J sandwich at hand!)

Pair this one with Kristyn Crow's would-be ballerina, Zombelina, (see my review here) for more Halloween fun.

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Boo Bash! Hot Rod Hamster at the Haunted Halloween Party by Cynthia Lord

IT WAS HALLOWEEN! HOT ROD HAMSTER HURRIED OFF TO FIND HIS FRIEND DOG.

"DOG! LOOK! IT'S A HALLOWEEN PARTY! FOOD, GAMES, FUN! LET'S GO!" HE SHOUTED.

"OKAY, BUT WE'LL NEED COSTUMES," DOG SAID.

It's the usual Fright Night problem: what to wear? There's even a prize for the best costume! Dog and Hamster study the choices at the store.

"GHOST FUN? CLOWN FUN? STAR FUN? CROWN FUN? WHICH WILL YOU CHOOSE?"

Then Hot Rod Hamster has an inspiration! He'll be a rock star and Dog and the others can be in his band! Hamster combs his topknot into a striking blue Mohawk do. Drumming, strumming, blowing, and shaking it! Rock 'n' Roll!

They load up their gear in the hot rod and set off for the party. But before they get very far, there is an unfortunate mechanical malfunction. The Hot Rod has broken down, and they must ask for help. But the only house in sight is a bit spooky. The windows are dark, and the sagging door hangs open. Whoooo lives there?

Well, they're pale and float instead of walk, but they do have tools to repair the hot rod, and they offer Dog and Hamster a deal they can't refuse.

"IF WE LOAN YOU TOOLS, CAN WE COME? GHOSTS LOVE PARTIES!"

Luckily ghosts don't weigh much, so they all pile onto the hot rod and roll up just as the party is getting into full swing. Soon Hot Rod Hamster and the band take the stage, and they are a hit!

DOG PLAYS THE DRUMS, HAMSTER SINGS THE SONG.
MICE SHAKE AND DANCE. AND THE GHOSTS HOWL ALONG.

Who knew ghosts make great backup singers? The wailing wraiths definitely pass the audition, and Hamster's band has a brand-new name--Hot Rod Hamster and the Howl-Agains--in Cynthia Lord's newest beginning reader tale, Hot Rod Hamster and the Haunted Halloween Party! (Hot Rod Hamster) (Scholastic Readers, Level 2: Hot Rod Hamster) (Scholastic Press, 2015). Noted Newbery author Cynthia Lord and ace artist Derek Anderson are known for their full-format picture book series, Hot Rod Hamster, which have become popular preschool fare, and this beginning reader, with its jolly rhymes and repeating refrain ("Which will you choose?") offers a light and easy read-alone treat for the scary season.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Sweets for the Sweet! The Sweetest Witch Around by Alison McGhee

"I'M THE BRAVEST WITCH AROUND.

WHY? BECAUSE I'M THE ONLY WITCH WHO IS NOT AFRAID OF HUMANS!"

This bravest of witches once found herself grounded on Halloween and befriended by a group of trick-or-treaters who admired her "costume" and invited her to go along. The little witch makes a human friend and in gratitude, takes her on a sight-seeing flight on her broom around a haunted mansion.

Now it is time for the Very Brave Witch to instruct her little sister, Witchling, in human Halloween customs. She invites her along on the broom for an overview of the holiday scene.

"STUDY THE HUMANS AND LEARN THEIR MYSTERIOUS WAYS, WITCHLING.

THEY LOVE DRESSING UP ON HALLOWEEN, ESPECIALLY LIKE US.

AND THEY LOVE SOMETHING DISGUSTING THEY CALL CANDY!"

Witchling is an eager student--too eager, it seems!--and when she gets her hands on some of those treats, she turns out to have quite the sweet tooth! Yum!!!

"WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT! MY LITTLE SISTER ACTUALLY ATE A PIECE OF HALLOWEEN CANDY! THAT'S ONE BRAVE WITCHLING!"

But before big sister can continue her lecture on other curious customs of humans, Witchling (who has no flying license) hops on the broom with Cat (Holy Catnip!!) and soars off for her own trick-or-treating expedition, returning with a huge treat bag full of candy. Big Sister pulls rank, jumps on the broom in the pilot's seat, and does a steep takeoff to get her little sister away from temptation as fast as possible. Sadly for Witchling, the treat bag spills its contents behind them, pleasing the little trick-or-treaters below, who have an easy haul to top off their treats. Although it's not exactly what she had in mind, big sister has to admit that Witching is the bravest and "sweetest" witch in the coven.

Alison McGhee's The Sweetest Witch Around (Simon & Schuster, 2015), in a new just-in-time-for-Halloween paperback edition, is a good example of a popular sub-genre, the interface between humans and the fantasy creatures of Halloween, carried out in this inviting story of little Witching, who, like her big sister in an earlier story, has an impromptu close encounter of the trick-or-treater kind, illustrated cleverly with Harry Bliss's witty artwork which add to the fun of the story with comic details not in the text. (Witchling's toys include an Easy-Bake Cauldron and her Graveyard Barbie Set--"Gravestones Included" for Ken and GIJoe.) With a funny double entendre in the title and happy Halloween ending, when Witchling's loss become the trick-or-treaters' gain, this story is sure to be popular treat for young readers in the scary season. Read my review of McGhee's and Bliss's companion book, A Very Brave Witch, here.

Pair this one with its companion book and with Kristyn Crow's Zombelina and Anne Marie Pace's Vampirina Ballerina. for more fun encounters of the spooky kind.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Monster Members Only! Ethan Long Presents...Fright Club by Ethan Long

IT WAS THE NIGHT BEFORE HALLOWEEN WHEN VLADIMIR CALLED ONE LAST FRIGHT CLUB MEETING TO GO OVER OPERATION KID SCARE.

All the legacy members are in attendance--Vlad the Vampire, Fran K. Stein, Sandy Witch, Virginia Wolf(man), and the other usual suspects--mummies, ghosts, zombies, and ghouls--all certified FRIGHTFUL.

But a review of the charter members terrifying techniques shows that they are all a bit rusty at being horrific. Vladimir is just launching into a lecture when there's a timid knock at the door. When Vlad grudgingly opens up, there is an adorable pink-eared bunny on his doorstep, asking to join the club.

"YOU? IN FRIGHT CLUB? THAT'S SUCH A CUTE IDEA!

BUT I AM AFRAID FRIGHT CLUB IS FOR MONSTERS ONLY. SHOO!

But Bunny is not easily abashed at being on the outside looking in. And he's not alone, either. He gathers his own cadre of outsiders and is soon back with legal assistance--Frances Foxx, attorney-at-law, waving a discrimination suit brief, on behalf of all the cutesy critters being denied membership. Vlad slams the trapdoor in their faces, but they are soon back with a passel of sign-carrying, shouting protesters:

"HISS, MOAN, BOO! WE CAN SCARE, TOO!"

And in Halloween's Operation Kid Scare, the new pledges of the Fright Club fraternity join the monsters in a very scary Fright Night caper, in Ethan Long's Fright Club (Bloomsbury Books, 2015). A winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel award for beginning reader books (for Up, Tall and High) puts his winning cartoon ways to work in this not-to-frightful Halloween tale for early graders. Great for reading aloud (the opportunities for silly voices are wide open here) and not too hard for primary readers, this one has a worthy premise of how it feels to be on the outside looking in, all in this clever story of a spooky clique outwitted and outspooked. As Publishers Weekly points out, "Long’s dark, ghostly palette sets an appropriately eerie mood, and he has a lot of fun with the cuddly animals’ reign of terror (a butterfly wields chains, Jacob Marley style, as it chases a ghost)."

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

High Adventure: The Edge by Roland Smith

"How did you know I would say yes?" I asked.

"I did not know." Zopa answered.

"So you agreed to lead this climb on the off chance that I would say yes?"

Zopa nodded. "But I hoped you would say no. You should not have come. You should not have brought your mother."

"Why?"

"This is not going to be a good climb."

"How do you know?"

Zopa shrugged. "A feeling. I can smell a bad climb."

"You smelled it all the way from Kathmandu?" I laughed.

When Peak Marcello's mother readily agrees to do the "Peace Climb" in Afghanistan organized by a billionaire philanthropist, fifteen-year-old Peak, coming off an almost deadly Everest ascent and a wild skyscraper-scaling prank, has his doubts. But the lure of climbing and the offer of revolutionary climbing gear seals the deal for him. His mom, once nicknamed "The Fly," is a famous climber, and the presence of Zopa, the Sherpa monk who guided the Everest climb, reassures Peak and reinforces his urge to combine his passions for climbing and promoting world peace.

But the signs are not favorable when the hastily-assembled team meet together in Afghanistan. Rivalries surface almost immediately between the egotistical climbmaster Phillip and ex-Marine Ethan and between Peak and some of the young climbers over the attentions of Alessia, comely daughter of the French ambassador to Afghanistan. The lack of climbing experience among the videographers' team and some of the young volunteers seems to concern Zopa, but they begin to trek out across the scrum, small boulders that make even walking treacherous, toward their chosen cliff. Zopa, a Tibetan monk who "does not sleep, at least not in the way we do," sticks to his sober premonitions about this climb.

But the biggest threat is not the mountain itself, but a band of Afghani thugs who kill several in their party and seize Peak's mother, Alessia, Zopa, and some of the climbers as bait for their ransom scheme. Peak has no option but to ally himself with Ethan, whose many talents in more than mountaineering turn out to be critical in tracking down the murderous gang across the rugged landscape. The trek itself is almost fatal to the two, and Peak can't help but notice that they seem to be shadowed by a shen, a snow leopard, as they find shallow graves with the bodies of some of their group behind the kidnappers. With his mom's fate in the hands of the killers, Peak knows there is no other choice but to follow their trail and hope to overcome them.

Everything is in line for a literal cliffhanger of a conclusion, and Roland Smith's forthcoming The Edge (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), does not disappoint, with an ending that, believe it or not, involves the talismanic shen and a parasail.

Dedicated fans of all-out thriller novels will find this one a worthy sequel to Smith's first book, eponymously titled Peak, in which the intrepid Peak and his Buddhist guru are introduced. Author Smith has some difficulty working the necessary details of extreme mountain climbing into the narration, making for slow some passages that may entice thrill-seeking readers to skip to the chase, but rock-climbing devotees will likely relish the every bit of the technical minutiae. With the iconic shen as both a spiritual symbol and an active character in the concluding pages, the ending is anything but predictable. The likelihood of a future "edgy" Peak sequel, however, is not.

"Extreme sports meets ruthless killers in a survival-of-the-fittest chase," says School Library Journal.

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