BooksForKidsBlog

Monday, February 29, 2016

Calling All Logophiles! Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park

CROW.

DOGS DOG DOGS.
English lends itself to wordplay, fun with word curiosities, and being an omnivore of a language, it snaps up a useful word wherever it is found and puts it to work with glee.

Award-winning author Linda Sue Park makes good use of a series of homographs, words that are written and sound the same, but may or may not be related etymologically.

For example, yaks don't, er, actually yak. (The verb to yak may be derived from a Yiddish verb meaning to be a busybody.) Steers don't steer anything, and bats don't come to bat and swing for the fences.

But crows do crow, crying raucously when they discover some delicious food for themselves. Quails freeze in the ground cover when danger approaches, so we can safely say quails do quail! Apes ape each other in monkey see, monkey do behavior, and parrots clearly parrot any sound that pleases them. Dogs trail each other around, dogging their steps, and hogs are definitely famous for hogging the swill and pigging out!

All of these oddities are fodder for a born logophile, and in her latest, Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2016), Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park explores these quirks of language with writerly relish, aided and abetted comically by Jennifer Black Reinhardt's terrific animal caricatures. Her yaks hunch over their tea table, clearly gossiping with glee, her slugs slug other slugs with little red boxing gloves, and her hogs hog their apple hoard like Scrooge pinched his pennies. Her crows flaunt their own banners, proclaiming their feathers the shiniest and their worm-catching the finest, and sturdy steers a the wheel attempt to control their bumper cars at the carnival.

Knowing that sight gags are the main attraction for young readers, Park and Reinhardt design double-page spreads that set off each animal word pair with elan, adding a little relevant definition to each page, (e.g., to ram: to strike horizontally) to identify the animal and featured verb, and a glossary of each term and its presumed etymology is appended for hard-core wordniks.

This book is a delight of concept and execution. Word-loving kids will soon be playing with their new-found verbs, yakking and crowing, badgering and dogging each other, or, as Park points out, kids are sure to kid each other!

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

One Word Says It All! Treat by Mary Sullivan

TREAT...?

The story opens with a rather stout pug-ish dog, snoozing soundly and, judging from the hazy thought balloon drifting above his head, dreaming of a large cone of soft-serve ice cream. But the tendrils of an actual enticing scent from the other room reach his sensitive olfactory system, and, bingo--

treat?

In a nano-second the plump pooch goes into beg-mode beside a toddler chowing down on  choco-puffs lined up on her little toy table. One paw raised beguilingly, the dog tries to elicit his treat, only to watch the tot insensitively chunk down the last one.  His thought balloon vanishes in mid-word.

T R E.....

Grrrrr! But there are still more family members to pester for a handout.

Big Sister kneels in front of a breakfast tray upon which lies an intact hotdog. Our mutt tries a trick. He rolls over. He eyeballs the hot dog suggestively. Sis ignores his plea and slams down the hotdog in two bites.

Pooch moves on to Brother, busy with crayons, who quickly sketches a self-portrait and offers it to his pet for approval. With a look on his face that says "Totally clueless," the pooch stomps off.


TREAT.

Grandma is still snoring in her bed, her fairly disgusting false teeth in a glass nearby. Grandpa is brushing his teeth.The baby in his crib has thoughtlessly left his bottle too far away for the pup's stubby paws to reach.

And then he hears a siren call from the laundry room, that one word he longs to hear, and scrabbles toward it with but one thought on his mind....

treattreattreattreattreattreattreattreat....!

... only to find the grinning toddler's toy shark in his food bowl. Everybody's a comedian! he sulks.

Our plump pooch throws himself on the waiting pile of dirty laundry and begins a nap, a nap which brings on a hungry hound's worst nightmare.... He circles inside the washing machine as it floats in space.... He pursues an ice cream truck which turns out to be manned by giant sharks.... He is chased by giant false teeth who seem to believe that he's the treat!

What's a guy got to do to get a bite to eat around here?

Even the most loyal of dog lovers will admit that food probably rates higher on their pooch's love list than anything else, and this chubby-cheeked, big-bellied mutt has "FEED ME!" written all over him.

Having documented the ball-obsessed dog in her Theodor Seuss Geisel-Award-winning Ball, Mary Sullivan takes over that other canine obsession, (I'll have whatever you're having!), in her forthcoming Treat (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), a real treat for dog fanciers, emergent readers, and adult and beginning readers who love a big, fat, juicy read-aloud book with plenty of room for gusto.

Sullivan's fun and funny colored-pencil illustrations are set against inspired page design, using thought bubbles (some shaped like Valentines and a chomped-into shark) and evocative font design to reveal exactly the one big thing on our portly pup's mind. Punctuation plays a big part in the storytelling, with periods, question marks, and multiple exclamation marks revealing the snack-obsessed canine's emotions, providing a little writing lesson along with a story which is good right down to the last bite.  Sullivan's latest  picture book ends with a most satisfying surprise for our paunchy pooch--and a totally satisfying treat for young readers.

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Dino ID: Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli

I HAVE A NECK LIKE A GOOSE. I AM A COELOPHYSIS.

I AM SMALL LIKE A CHICKEN.

I AM A MICRORAPTOR.

Inside a thick square board book, young readers encounter a four-page gatefold, opening to welcome them inside the Museum, with exhibits divided into three sections, Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous.

The first two-page spread is die-cut into the curving lines of a goose's neck, repeated in the lines of the long-necked colelophysis swimming in a primeval sea. Each successive recto page has a cut shape which suggests the outlines of the next dinosaur on the following double-page spread.

I STRETCH LONGER THAN THE LADDER OF A FIRE TRUCK.

I AM A BRACHIOSAURUS.

Familiar dinos like the Tyrannosaurus Rex and rarer ones like the burrowing Oryctodromeus or the chicken-sized Microraptors fill the sturdy pages with over twenty dinosaurs, concluding with the intimidatingly-named Micropachycephalosaurus! A thumbnail-illustrated dinosaur micro-glossary is appended with descriptions of each dino.

Christopher Franceschelli's Dinoblock (Alphablock) (Abrams Appleseed Books, 2015) is a fine board book for the youngest which teaches both common animals and other objects while introducing a variety of dinosaurs. Suitable for small hands, this book has quite the staying power, with rare dinos with complex names to be mastered by older readers.  As Publishers Weekly points out in their starred review, "Less-common dinosaurs are many, and phonetic pronunciations are provided throughout—helpful when getting acquainted with oryctodromeus, euoplocephalus, and micropachycephalosaurus."

Previous books by Chris Franceschelli are Alphablock and Countablock (Alphablock).

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Friday, February 26, 2016

"The Game Is Afoot!" Tru and Nelle by G. Neri

When Truman first spotted Nelle, he thought she was a boy. Barefoot and dressed in overalls with a boyish haircut, she perched on a stone wall that separated their rambling wood homes. He was trying to avoid her stare by pretending to read his book.

"Hey, you!" she said.

Truman gazed up from pages. He was sitting quietly on a wicker chair on the side porch of his cousins' house, dressed in a little white sailor suit. "Are you talking to me?" he said in a high wispy voice.

"Come here," she commanded.

Truman was taken aback. "You're a ...
girl?"

Nelle stared back. Truman's high voice, white-blond hair, and sailor outfit had thrown her for a loop.

"You're a
boy?" she asked, incredulous.

It's not a propitious meeting. Two misfit kids, self-possessed but lonely, are drawn to each other, and when Nelle spots the cover of Truman's book, The Adventure of the Dancing Men: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, she senses a kinship to this strange, bossy, but sissified boy. With some bragging about his days of tap-dancing on a Mississippi steamboat, he admits that he's been left by both parents with his elderly cousins, and despite herself, Nelle is intrigued. She takes possession of the book imperiously, promising to return it when she's "good 'n' done" with it.

And with that, a friendship is made. Nelle Harper introduces Truman to life in the small Alabama town, the bullies, the Court House, and her enticing treehouse, where the two bond over their love of Sherlock Holmes and conspire to solve mysteries of their own. Naturally, Tru has to be Sherlock, allowing Nelle to be his Watson, and neighbor Jennings (a.k.a, Big Boy) is assigned the role of Lestrade. Truman's cousin Sook even turns a couple of old baseball caps into a deerstalker hat, and they are ready for action. All they need is a case.

And a suitable mystery, a break-in at the local drugstore, soon presents itself. Nelle's suspicions fall on the local bully, Elliott, called Boss, and his sidekick Billy Eugene. And when Nelle discovers a slingshot contraption in a tree, rigged to fire rocks  through the store's plate glass windows, they have real evidence in hand. The slingshot has a curved shape carved into the handle--a snake, or perhaps the letter S. Nelle leans toward the snake as the clue, but Tru has another insight, their reclusive young neighbor, Sonny Boular.

The game is afoot!

Nelle and Tru's detecting lead them into late-night surveillance. Recruiting Sook's cook, Little Bit, for cover for their pretense of catching fireflies, they duck down in the tall grass when they hear a group of men assembling in the field.

Someone struck a match and lit a torch of some kind.

Truman's view was blocked by Little Bit, but he could see silhouettes of pointy heads. He saw the flames lick at the bottom of the sheets wrapped around the tree. The fire shot up the sheets and set the whole tree ablaze.

Only it wasn't a tree. It was a cross. And the men didn't have pointy heads; they were dressed in white robes and hoods with holes cut out for their eyes.

The Ku Klux Klan.

Young adult readers who know the the novel (or even the movie) may recognize the small town setting and the young Sherlock and Watson as the doppelgangers of the fictional Scout and Dill, the real Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee, two towering literary figures of the twentieth century whose childhood exploits led to the friendship which gave us To Kill a Mockingbird and whose shared passion for crime-solving led to Lee's uncredited but real collaboration on Capote's award-winning In Cold Blood.

That amazing happenstance of history makes for a new and delightfully fictionalized account of that friendship, G. Neri's Tru and Nelle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), a novel with all the fun of the free-range childhood that Madisonville, Alabama, offered two brilliant but offbeat kids growing up together in the 1930s. Tru teases Nelle about her accent, calling her "Na-il Harpuh," and Nelle (Ellen, spelled backwards) gives the prissy Truman as good as she gets about his signature white suits, all in the easy style of kissin' cousins, in a portrayal of the early and epic pair of soul mates who were to cast a long shadow across the literary future. Savvy readers will recognize Atticus in Nelle's father "A.C." and Boo Radley in the mysterious "Sonny Boular." Readers who have yet to experience Harper Lee's landmark novel will find the re-told childhood adventures of Nelle and Tru both funny and poignant in their own right, perhaps steering them to read her Pulitzer-winning novel even before it is assigned to them in school.

"Tru and Nelle is a wonderfully imaginative re-creation of the childhoods of two great American writers, but even more, it is a novel that affirms the mysterious and glorious ways that friendship reaches across boundaries of all sorts to claim unexpected kinship." says two-time Newbery author, Gary D. Schmidt.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You! If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON'T! by Elisa Parsley

Nobody said she couldn't!

Magnolia isn't going to settle for a bird's nest or some sparkly rocks! For her first show-and-tell, she's going BIG!

YOU'LL TELL YOUR TEACHER YOUR ALLIGATOR WILL BE QUIET AND GOOD AND WON'T EAT ANYONE, CROSS YOUR HEART!

But Magnolia's alligator didn't get that memo. He cracks up the class during spelling lesson by showing silly drawings, and Magnolia gets her name on the board, which means she has to be last in line for lunch.

Magnolia tries to curb her alligator. Really, she does. But during the art lesson on origami, Magnolia's alligator folds a paper airplane and sails it across the room and right into the back of the teacher's head.

Magnolia gets a check beside her name on the board. NO recess for Magnolia.

DURING MATH, MAGNOLIA NOTICES THAT HER ALLIGATOR IS HUNGRY.

Magnolia intervenes just in time to save a classmate's head from being an alligator appetizer.

YOU WILL BEG HIM NOT TO EAT ANYONE AND FOR PETE'S SAKE, TO WAIT FOR SHOW AND TELL!

Lunch is fairly hairy for Maggie. The good news is that the alligator refrains from eating any actual kids. The bad news is that he eats her lunch and most of everyone else's.

Magnolia gets her name on the board again, with more checks and an underline, which means she has an after-school date with the principal.

And when show-and-tell time finally rolls around, Magnolia has to sit through the usual boring bird's nests and sparkly rock exhibits until it's her turn to present the wonders of her alligator, 76 teeth and all. Her alligator cooperates by brandishing all 76 of them. But Magnolia proves she's in charge. Pointing out that 'gators are only afraid of other alligators and humans, Magnolia faces him down with her very scariest face!

BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!

Magnolia clears the room as the teacher, kids, AND her alligator run for their lives.

YEAH. IF YOU EVER WANT TO BRING YOUR ALLIGATOR TO SCHOOL. DON'T.

Since Mary brought that lamb to school, kids have loved stories about show-and-tell sessions gone awry, and Elisa Parsley's over-the-top If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't! (Little, Brown and Company, 2015) is already enjoying top-selling success, by virtue of its dead-pan narration juxtaposed against giggle-getting sight gags in the illustrations. The classroom is hung with school banners that read The Swampies, and Parsley even adds a closing endpaper in which Maggie's alligator, hiding inside her locker, scares the heck out of a classmate. It's silly, it's preposterous, and it's a hoot for primary graders who love an outrageously slapstick school story.

And speaking of outrageous stories, School Library Journal compares this one with David Shannon's beloved David Goes To School and adds "This is an engaging debut picture book written in free verse will appeal to a wide age range. Here's hoping for more adventures with Magnolia!"

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Over the Waves! Rufus Goes to Sea by Kim Griswell

RUFUS LEROY WILLIAMS LOVED GOING TO SCHOOL

But school is out for the summer. So Rufus turns to his other love--READING!

Rufus starts his summer reading with a book called Pirates, and suddenly he knows how he wants to spend his summer vacation! Rufus wants to be a pirate.

But first Rufus has to find a berth on a corsair's ship flying the skull and crossbones.

But when he approaches the first old sea dog he sees down at the dock, first mate Scratchwhiskers, he gets a cold reception. And the peg-legged captain can't see any purpose in signing on a pig as a pirate.

"NO PIGS ON PIRATE SHIPS!" BELLOWED CAPTAIN WIBBLYSHINS.

"PIGS PLAY ON POOP DECKS! THEY PICNIC FROM THE CROW'S NESTS.

AND THEY WIPE THEIR CHINS ON THE JOLLY ROGER!"

It seems that there's plenty of prejudice against pigs among pirates. But Rufus is a plucky and notably persistent pirate-wannabe pig, so he tries getting into the appropriate pirate gear, appearing in an eye patch, in a proper pirate's hat, and with a mop and bucket to swab the decks. Cap'n Wibblyshins is unimpressed, declaring the pirate he needs has to have special skills.

Rufus Leroy Williams reaches into his sea bag and haul out his book.

"I HAVE THIS!" HE SAID.

Suddenly the old Captain's beady eyes brighten.

"YOU CAN READ? WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY SO!"

It's seems there's a paucity of literacy aboard Wibblyshin's ship, and Rufus Leroy Williams is named their Reading Pig and tasked with reading the crew all of their treasure maps. Anchors aweigh! It's time to hoist sail, to "Avast, all ye hardies!" and have some serious treasure-hunting on the bounding main. Rufus has his summer adventure, and with his map-reading, the buccaneers have a successful voyage with plenty of treasure trunks to dig up on the beach of their own Treasure Island.

X doesn't mark the spot for a booty of golden doubloons in Kim Griswell's latest, Rufus Goes to Sea (Sterling, 2015), but with the help of skillful visual foreshadowing by artist Valeri Gorbachev, young readers won't be totally surprised when the mariners discover something even better in their excavated treasure troves. Gorbachev, the best American illustrator with a Soviet dictator for a father, offers comic artwork which keeps the giggles coming, and Griswell's Rufus is just as plucky and endearing a pig as he was in his first outing, Rufus Goes to School. (See my 2013 review here.)

". . . a marvelous paean to the joy and power of reading," says School Library Journal.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Talk of the Town: Naughty Mabel by Nathan Lane and Devlin Elliott

"HEL-LO, DAR-LINGS. ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF~~MABEL OF THE HAMPTONS. AND THIS IS MY HUMBLE ABODE."

Mabel is one smug, posh pooch, a pampered pet French bulldog, with the emphasis on French. In her marbled mansion, she is the doggy diva of the house, indulged by her rich owners who dote on her despite her mischief-making.

"I AM NOT NAUGHTY

I AM VERY
VERY NAUGHTY."

Between eating her mistress's diamonds, her master's watch, and anyone's underwear, Mabel careens about the grounds in her owner's golf cart and goes for "walks" in an elegant stroller pushed by her "parents" down only the best streets, don't you know! And as long as a bath is not involved (she is French, right?), a visit to the spa is her favorite destination.

"I KNOW A LADY ISN'T SUPPOSED TO REVEAL HER AGE, BUT I FEEL LIKE I KNOW YOU ALREADY--

I'M FIVE. OH, I KNOW I DON'T LOOK IT, BUT FIVE IS THE NEW THREE!"

But despite her aversion to sudsing, one day Mabel finds herself being given a bath! But, looking on the bright side, Mabel figures that she is being groomed for a party her parents are planning, and she happily imagines herself as the life of said soiree. She can't help boasting about her social life to her neighbor pets.

"SMARTY CAT AND SCAREDY CAT ARE JEALOUS BECAUSE THEIR HUMANS FALL ASLEEP WATCHING INFOMERCIALS!"

But on the night of the big do, Mabel finds herself stashed in her elegant bedroom early, while preparations for a posh cocktail party go on without her.

Well, that's what they think.

Mabel dons her red tutu, pearls, and red satin slippers, and slips downstairs to smooze with the best of the smart set. But she is waylaid by trays of cocktail pigs in blankets waiting to be served, and she noshes heavily before making her grand entrance.

And what an entrance it is! The guests are amused and whip out their cell phones to snap pictures of Mabel in her glittering party best. Her parents are not amused, and a chase ensues, with Mabel making quite the mess of the season's most lavish scene. And then Mabel, admitting that she has perhaps eaten too many pigs in their blankets, commits the foremost faux pas of the season.

PFFFFFFRRRRTTTTT!!!

"I SURE KNOW HOW TO CLEAR A ROOM!"

Unabashed, authors Lane and Elliot make the most of the cheap laugh at Mabel's climactic infraction, one that will keep kids laughing rip-roaringly long after the next pages are turned. Both authors are noted theatrical luminaries who doubtless have attended a few posh parties themselves and who glibly toss in some bon mots to amuse the adults reading this tale aloud. Noted film artist Dan Krall has a ball with his over-the-top illustrations of this life of the party who will be the talk of the town for several seasons.

Mabel may not be the pooch of choice for everyone, but she's certainly not your boring average mutt. As Booklist says, "Mabel is somewhere between Fancy Nancy and Rotten Ralph, and her uproarious party crashing is sure to charm little ones."

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Snow Job: Splat the Cat: Blow, Snow, Blow! by Rob Scotton, et al

SPLAT STARED OUT THE WINDOW.

"WHEN WILL IT SNOW?" HE ASKED.

Like many kids in the northern hemisphere, Splat is on a snow watch. He's got great plans--to build a snowcat, the hugest snowcat ever!

It's cold, and the gray clouds are spitting out a few snowflakes, but the impatient Splat doesn't go for this s-l-o-w snow!

Mom tells Splat to give it a rest.

But he and Little Sis head outside to scrape up the so-so snow. They manage to get enough to make a doll-sized snowcat, but with a pink bow for its head, Sis claims it as her own kitty creation. Phooey!

Si when the gray clouds don't deliver the goods, Splat decides to take over the task on his own. What does it take to make snow, anyway?

Ice? Splat fills a bowl with ice. Fluffy stuff? He empties the feathers from his pillow over the ice. But how to get it to float down on the landscape. He needs some wind to blow the snow.

A fan?

Splat gets a face full of feathers! Faux snow's a no-go!

Double Phooey! The only white stuff Splat gets are the marshmallows in his cocoa by the fire, but in the morning.... a big snowfall covers everything. Snowcat, here they come!

Based on Rob Scotton's classy black kitty character, Splat the Cat: Blow, Snow, Blow (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper, 2015) is on the calendar just in time to keep beginning readers laughing while they keep their eyes on the skies for the first big snow.  With lively but controlled text by Amy Hsu Lin and sprightly cartoon kitties by illustrator Robert Eberz, this easy-reader's snow story's no snow joke.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

There'll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town....: It's Getting HOT in Here: The Past, the Present, and Future of Climate Change by Bridget Heos

People often say that in a perfect world, this or that would happen. Nice guys would finish first.

But our world already is pretty perfect. It has to be in order for life to exist. Even simple life forms have yet to be found on other planets. But here on earth, conditions have allowed complex plants and animals to evolve.

For humans to have populated the world and built civilizations that provide food, water, health care, and education, things had to be just right.

Primary among those things necessary for abundant life is the greenhouse effect. Too little carbon dioxide and methane in the upper atmosphere and the earth is an icy snowball. Too much of a good thing and.... well, it's not a pretty picture, as Bridget Heo's forthcoming It's Getting Hot in Here: The Past, Present, and Future of Climate Change (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) points out. Like that iconic polar bear marooned on a tiny ice floe on the cover, the results of the continuous rise of average global temperature is certain to leave a super-storm-battered mankind high and probably dry on shrunken continents amid a rising sea level of increasingly salty water, with fresh water sources evaporating in the rising heat. 2015 was the hottest year since humans have kept records. Most of the ten or twenty hottest years have been in the twenty-first century. What must we do to turn down the heat?

Heos' It's Getting Hot in Here is a succinct summary of the basics students need to know about climate change, a easy-to-understand compendium of theories, facts and figures, and ideas about what to do, recounting the history of our awareness of changes in climate going back before NASA's James Hansen issued his first warnings. The author explains the role of greenhouse gases in the "Land Before Time," within the perspective of earth's history over billions of years, the ups and downs of those gases over millions of years, but concentrates on the years since the mid-twentieth century when the advance in physical sciences enabled us to analyze variations of carbon dioxide in ice core samples from glaciers and sample the greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere. The graphs are stunning in their clarity. After changing little for many centuries, the rate goes straight up from the late 1700s and continues its rise to the present, perfectly showing the rise in the burning of carbon-dioxide-releasing fossil fuels.

Bridge Heos' solid, science-based text is not guilty of scare-mongering. She straightforwardly describes the changes in polar ice, glaciers, and the rise in the oceans which has small South Pacific island nations already brokering a move of their entire populations to Australia and Asia. Tovalu, Tonga, Kiribati, Fiji, Samoa, and the Maldives, only a few feet above sea level, are likely going under in the lifetimes of this book's readers. And lest we feel too smug up on our big continent, let's remember that New Orleans is already below sea level (Remember Hurricane Katrina?), and Galveston, Miami and Palm Beach, New York, Charleston, and downtown Boston are no more than three feet above ocean level. With extreme tropical storms like Super-Storm Sandy likely, that's not going to be enough for those areas to survive this century either.

Author Heos traces the genesis of human efforts to slow the rise of greenhouse gases through the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord (this book was already in production during the 2015 Paris agreement), and optimistically takes the position that humans have the ingenuity and much of the technological knowledge and enterprise to slow global warming to more manageable levels while we are switching to non-fossil sources of energy.  She establishes the case that the evidence is clear that we must have the will.

With a glossary, a bibliography of books, primary sources, and articles, and the necessary index, this book is quite accessible as an invaluable source for secondary students as supplementary reading for environmental science classes and is a necessary purchase for middle, high school, and public libraries. "Well-researched and comprehensible, it’s an alarming, but never alarmist, examination of a critical topic," says Publishers Weekly's starred review.

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

On, You Huskies! Balto of the Blue Dawn (Magic Tree House #54 by Mary Pope Osborne

"It's going to be all right, Oki," Nurse Morgan said.

"Don't worry," said a man in a white coat. "I promise you, everyone is working night and day to fight this epidemic."

"Dr. Welch, my sister and mother need the medicine now, or they will die!" said Oki. "Even in a blizzard, I know Gunnar Kaasen can keep running."

"That's it!" Annie whispered to Jack.

"What?" Jack said.

"Our mission! Help save the lives of these sick people!" Annie said. "That's why Merlin sent us here!"

It's warm summertime back in Frog Creek, but when Annie and Jack spot the Magic Tree House in the woods, their magical friend Teddy tells them they must hurry back to snowy Alaska in 1925 and, remaining incognito, make sure that serum arrives from Anchorage to Nome to stop the epidemic of diphtheria there. Teddy gives Jack a box with magical gold dust that will give them great skill with dog teams, but then he does something new:

"One more thing," said Teddy. "Merlin wants those you help to be the heroes. He does not wish his magic to be part of their story."

Teddy handed Annie a shimmering blue box. "It holds a bit of stardust. If you toss the stardust into the air, any memory of your visit will instantly be erased."

Jack and Annie climb down from the tree house just outside the Alaskan village of Nome in the midst of an oncoming blizzard. Oki offers them his uncle's sled and dogs to try to find the Klaasen's dog team and help them make it to Nome, and using the gold dust from the box to grant them expert powers, Jack and Annie take turns mushing along the trail. The storm closes in, and when Jack's boots break through the ice, they have to make a stop at a way station for dry socks and a warm up. With less than eight hours of their magic left to find Klaasen's team and return to Nome, they push on desperately down the trail. At last they find his sled overturned and his dogs' tug lines tangled. But there is another, even worse, problem.

"The package is missing!" Gunnar yelled. "It was tied to the sled. This is a catastrophe!"

Annie released Balto. "Find the medicine! Find it now," Annie yelled to the big lead dog.

In her latest, Magic Tree House #54: Balto of the Blue Dawn (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2016), Mary Pope Osborne takes her time-traveling young adventurers back to the heroic mushers and dogs who brought the diphtheria antitoxin over 1000 miles from Anchorage to Nome in 1925.  In her Author's Note, Osborne scrupulously gives another lead dog, Togo, and his driver Leonhard Seppala their due credit for making the hardest lap in the great sled race against death along the Arctic Ocean, with Balto and Klaasen taking the victory lap into Nome. Osborne's historical fiction makes one of the great stories of heroism from the twentieth century, the genesis of the annual Iditarod sled race, accessible to young readers.

For more information about this real-life adventure story, see Mary Pope Osborne's and Natalie Pope Boyce's companion book, Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #34: Dogsledding and Extreme Sports: A nonfiction companion to Magic Tree House #54: Balto of the Blue Dawn (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2016).

For more stories of heroic animals, including Togo and Balto, pair this one with Jeff Campbell's Daisy to the Rescue: True Stories of Daring Dogs, Paramedic Parrots, and Other Animal Heroes. Read (review here).

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Here's Looking at You! Peek-a-Boo Dinosaurs by Charles Reasoner

PEEK-A-BOO DINOSAUR LOVES TO EXPLORE.

And he's in the right book. The eyes have it in Charles Reasoner's Peek-A-Boo Dinosaur (Die-Cut Animal Board) (Picture Window/Capstone Press), with one critter or another peeking through the die-cut windows on each page of this shaped book. Jeepers Creepers! Where'd they get those peepers? Big dino and tiny ladybug eyes peer through through the peepholes, and green, gold, and pink dinosaur twins pop out to say "hello."

We're talking STURDY in the case of this board book for the youngest, with holes for little fingers to poke and pages stiff enough for little fingers to learn to turn. A shaped book with page edges cut into the lines of the jungle foliage, it's a good place for a baby dino to hatch and a good place for little eyes to go exploring.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

In the Z-Z-Z-Zone! Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon

HE WASN'T LIKE ANY OTHER CREATURE WE HAVE EVER FOUND IN OUR BACKYARD.

WE ASKED HIM HIS NAME. WE ASKED HIM WHAT HE WAS DOING IN OUR TREE.

BUT THERE WAS NO ANSWER. HE WAS ASLEEP.

The good-hearted kids load the creature up on their little red wagon, his relaxed limbs dangling, and set off to find the answers to their questions.

Dad is too busy to take a look at their passenger, so they move on, inside the house to do some research in their animal books, but they don't see anything like their shaggy, somnolent friend. He's certainly not an elephant or a zebra. He has big claws, but he doesn't look much like a bear. Maybe he's an astronaut alien for another galaxy far, far away!

However, lying unnoticed on Dad's armchair, the Daily News has a banner headline:

ZOO BREAKOUT!

Then, in a book on the rain forest, their search pays off. He sleeps a lot, he moves slowly, or not at all, and he has shaggy fur. He's got to be... A SLOTH!

These thoughtful kids know the sloth's family must be worried, so they don't let the grass grow under their feet. They decide to send the sleepy sloth back to the nearest rain forest.

WE FOUND A NICE BIG BOX AND USED ALL THE STAMPS WE COULD FIND.

WE PICKED SOME LOVELY LEAVES FOR THE JOURNEY.

The kids dutifully haul the big box off to the post office, paying no attention to the signs posted along the way with pictures of the sloth. The caption says

IF FOUND
PLEASE RETURN
TO THE ZOO!

But the sloth sleeps on as the plane wings its way to the the deepest, darkest jungle, where the postal workers leave the box under a tall tree. The monkeys are curious and pry open the box.

The sloth is awake! And he has a question for the monkeys.

"EXCUSE ME. WHICH WAY IS THE ZOO?"

Bears and sloths sleep on... and on. But not even Karma Wilson's Bear can sleep as much as a sloth, as Frann Preston-Gannon's latest, Sloth Slept On (Sterling Books, 2015), proves. Preston-Gannon's narrative is delivered by the would-be helpful kids in deliberative, deadpan style, while her dutiful little animal lovers are totally oblivious to the zoo's efforts to find their wandering sloth, an irony that won't be at all wasted on young readers.

Pair this one with Preston-Gannon's previous book about another rather exotic critter, How to Lose a Lemur (see review here), or either of these jolly sloth stories--Helen Lester's Score One for the Sloths (Laugh-Along Lessons) or Jenny Offil's Sparky! (read review here).

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

All Aboard! Pete the Cat's Train Trip by James Dean

PETE THE CAT IS GOING TO VISIT GRANDMA.

HE GETS TO RIDE A TRAIN!

Pete is excited as he, Mom, and brother Bob board the big passenger train. It's a first for him!

"I CAN'T WAIT TO EXPLORE THE TRAIN!" SAYS PETE.

And explore he does! When he tells the conductor collecting tickets how much he loves the train, he gets an invitation to a guided tour, beginning with a walk through the cars back to the caboose, where Pete is thrilled as he watches the train approach and cross over a high bridge!

"WOW!"

The floor rumbles under Pete's feet as they head back toward the front of the train. Pete is surprised to discover Mom and Bob in the snack bar car, where Mom hands him an apple. Moving forward through his own car, Pete finds himself in the engine at the very front!

Pete is wowed again by the sight of the controls--throttle and brake--and then the engineer points to a tunnel ahead.

PETE GETS TO HONK THE HORN AS THEY GO THROUGH.

Pete has a lot to tell Grandma when the train pulls into her station, in James Dean's beginning reader book, Pete the Cat's Train Trip (My First I Can Read) (Harper, 2015). Many kids never get to ride a bona fide passenger train for real, and Dean's vicarious ride with his Pete the Cat is a virtual treat. As usual, Pete dresses for the occasion in his blue-striped overalls and railroader cap and is a enthusiastic guide to what a train trip is like.  With controlled vocabulary and plenty of visual cues to help with decoding the text, this entry in Harper's venerable I-Can-Read series offers a groovy treat for emergent readers.

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First Taste of Space: My Best Pop-Up Space Book by Clare Lloyd

WE LIVE ON PLANET EARTH.

EARTH IS ONLY A SMALL PART OF SPACE!

You're never to young to blast off into space, in Clare Lloyd's My Best Pop-up Space Book (Dorling Kindersley, 2015).

Beginning with Earth--our own place in space--author Lloyd gives youngsters a quick overview of the the planet that is home, describing how it spins on its axis to bring us night and day while revolving around the sun to bring us the seasons of each year, and backs up the narrative with a dramatic double gate-fold of the solar system.  DK (Dorling Kindersley) pioneered those spot-art illustrations that have become their trademark, executed here by Caryn Jenner, pictures that seem to pop from the pages, and in this book they actually do with exciting pop ups and fold-out constructions that fire the imagination.

There is even a sound-effects button (the red spacecraft) that provides the sound track for this voyage to the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars in outer space, and the book's movable devices demonstrate how the moon's phases change during its cycle.

Little readers also get to suit up and board their own rocket ship as astronauts and prepare to blast off!

ASTRONAUTS LIVE AND WORK IN SPACE.

EVERYTHING FLOATS IN SPACE!

IMAGINE EATING AND SLEEPING WHERE EVERYTHING FLOATS!

Preschoolers get to cruise past the moon rovers on Mars, rings of Saturn and the many moons of Jupiter, all in the three dimensions of DK's sturdy board book pages for the youngest space voyagers.

IS THERE LIFE ON MARS? THERE MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN THE PAST. LANDERS CALLED ROVERS LOOK FOR CLUES!

DK's My Best Pop-up Space Book gives youngsters their own first taste of the science of the stars. Just press that red button, open the book, and lift off!

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

D-O-N-'T GOOOOO! Penguin Misses Mom by Michael Dahl

"I MISS MY MOM," SAYS PENGUIN.

Mom has announced that she is going out.

Penguin instantly feels bereft!

Mom picks up her bag and announces that someone has come to stay and play with Penguin until she comes back. She waves cheerily from the door.

" BE GOOD! HAVE FUN!"

Penguin is not exactly feeling the fun. He hugs his comfort cushion and sheds a few tears, but when Mrs. Duck puts her wing around him and reads him a story book, he listens quietly and sadly.

Still morose, he colors with her, but when she shows him how to build a tower of blocks, he begins to get into the spirit of the fun.

And when Mrs. Duck puts out quite a spread for their snack, Penguin perks up. Yummy!

And then Mom comes through that door with a big smile and open arms.

"DID YOU MISS ME?"

But Penguin is too busy snacking on his goldfish crackers to stop right away for the big hug.

It's a good guess that Mrs. Duck will be making a return engagement as the sitter with the mostest, in Michael Dahl's forthcoming Penguin Misses Mom (Hello Genius) (Picture Window/Capstone Books, 2016). Oriol Vidal's artwork pictures an adorable little penguin coping pretty well with his mom's day out. With bright page backgrounds and simple illustrations in contrasting flat color that pop off the page, these Little Genius board books are charming introductions to the experiences with which young kids must cope. Pair this one with Anna Dewdney's popular hit, Llama Llama Misses Mama.

Other books in the Hello Genius series are Dahl's Little Tiger Picks Up (Hello Genius), Little Lion Shares (Hello Genius), and Little Monkey Calms Down (Hello Genius).

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Hoarder! Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson

RABBIT LOVED CARROTS!

RABBIT WAS PROUD OF HIS COLLECTION AND BURROWED THEM AWAY IN HIS COZY HOLE.

BUT RABBIT HAD A PROBLEM. A BIG PROBLEM.

A rabbit's gotta right to crave carrots.

But there can be too much of a good thing, and Rabbit's collection has reached critical mass!

His burrow has so many carrots that he has to burrow into his burrow through the veggies. And trying to sleep surrounded, top, bottom, and on both sides by pointy root vegetables? Fahgeddaboudit.

Carrots are falling out of his mail slot, and his roof is bulging through with carrots and more carrots.

"I NEED A PLACE TO SLEEP!" RABBIT TOLD TORTOISE.

Tortoise offers to share his house, but, problem is, his shell is his house!

Rabbit gives it the old college try, squeezing and wiggling his way inside Tortoise's snug shell. But the fit is so tight that the two-headed tortoise shell tumbles out of control.

Tortoise's attempt to crash with Torty sends them rolling downhill and then...CRASH! into a rock.

Rabbit tries out Bird's nest, but when he tries to nest along with his carrots...CRACK! goes Bird's branch.

When the bough breaks, down comes Bird's nest, carrots and all!

Squirrel takes pity on his rodent cousin and invites Rabbit and the rest of the now homeless friends to bring their bedrolls for a sleepover in his commodious hollow tree. But soon the overstuffed trunk splits, cracks, and crashes, and the four footloose friends are forced to split the scene posthaste. Beaver offers his stick-built waterfront home beside the pond, but a flash flood floats them all away, carrots and all.

Beaver, Squirrel, Bird, Tortoise AND Rabbit are all washed up, embedded in a mud bank. Is it time for Rabbit to reconsider the merits of carrot collecting?

Which brings up a new problem. What to do with too many carrots? Where's Bugs Bunny when you need him?

There is one way, and Katy Hudson's newest, Too Many Carrots (Capstone Young Readers, 2016), ends with a jolly potluck supper, with Rabbit providing all the carrot cake, carrot casserole, carrot juice, and carrot soup that the gang can gobble.

And then all the buddies bunk down in the only house left standing--and plenty roomy--Rabbit's Burrow!

It seems Rabbit now has too many roomies--but that's a story for another day!

Katy Hudson's clever narrative turns upside down the old premise of "there's always room for one more," in a funny story of true friends adorned with rambunctiously detailed pen-and-ink (with plenty of orange paint) illustrations in a wry and witty look at the downside of too much of a good thing.

This rabbit tale begs to be paired up with Aaron Reynolds' Caldecott Honor Book, Creepy Carrots! (Read my review here).

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