BooksForKidsBlog

Thursday, March 31, 2016

No Place Like Home: The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

One day in the forest, a young bear cub found something he'd never seen before.

What could this strange thing be? he thought. Shyly, he touched it with his stubby paws.

The strange thing made an awful sound.

But curiosity and a strange fascination with the thing brings the bear back over and over. An old-fashioned upright piano stands draped in creeping vines in a clearing in the forest, lit by beams of sunlight like theater lights. The old piano brings him back again the next day, and the day after that. And as he grows older and bigger, the sounds he gets from the strange object make him happy.

The sounds took him away from the forest, and he dreamed of strange and wonderful lands.

All the bears of the forest begin to gather daily for Bear's concerts and they stand transfixed.

Then one day a man and his daughter stumble across one of Bear's performances and invite him to come to the city to play for people and hear wondrous music...

"... sounds so beautiful thy will make your fur stand on end."

Sad to leave his friends but intrigued by the attraction of more wonderful music, Bear follows the two across the river to the big city...

And before long...... the bear's name was up in big, bright lights in the big, bright city.

Bear is the sensation of the season. In black tie and tails, he plays his music on sonorous grand pianos with such style and feeling that he fills ornate theaters with enthralled music lovers shouting BRAVO!

Bear is lionized! He receives awards. His recordings go platinum. He is a musical media darling. The big city is more wonderful than he imagined.

But one night after enjoying standing ovations, he sits on the roof of his apartment, his evening-slippered feet dangling, his bow tie untied, and he sees the moon, the same moon he watched back home. And he longs for his old favorite places and friends.

So back he goes, eager to share his story with his first fans. But when he reaches the clearing, the piano is... gone. Have his friends forgotten him? Have they forgotten his music?

But not to worry. A bear appears and leads him to a sight that makes his fur stand up all over again.

Under a spreading tree is a veritable shrine, with The Piano, surrounded by his recordings, clippings, albums, and even a Bear tee-shirt hanging from the tree's lower branches.

And Bear sits right down at the old upright and plays again for his first and best audience, in David Litchfield's delightful book, The Bear and the Piano (Houghton Mifflin Clarion Books 2016), forthcoming in its new American edition. Celebrated by reviewers of the earlier British edition, Litchfield's beguiling bear tale celebrates the power of music and the pull of friendship in equal measure, in carefully chosen phrases that let his gloriously textured illustrations, done in traditional media "assembled" digitally in delicious full-bleed spreads, to tell the story artistically, as it should be told. Bear as the artist goes forth to share his gifts and returns to his home to replenish the roots of his artistry, and that is, as poet Robert Frost says in another genre, "good both going and coming back."

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Go with the Floe? Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups by Tagdh Bentley

"OH, HELLO! IT'S SO NICE TO HIC! MEET YOU.

FRANKLIN SAID YOU WOULD BE HERE SOON."

Little Penguin's problem is not cold feet, even though he's standing on an ice floe.

Since Penguin pigged out on spicy chili, he just can's quit hiccuping. It's terribly annoying. He can't finish a sentence without a HIC. It's making this penguin cuckoo!

Of course, everyone is an expert. Frederick suggests he stand on his head. Chester suggests drinking from the opposite side of the cup. Albert advises him to do both at the same time. Hic!

Franklin feels that what Little Penguin needs is for someone to scare him out of his hics.

"SO I NEED YOU TO SCARE ME. SAY BOO!

ON THREE! READY? 1, 2, 3....


Hic! That's not loud enough, folks. Once more, please, with feeling Get crazy and shout it out....

ROAR!

Friend Franklin, a formidably toothy orca, finally arrives and beaches himself on Little Penguin's particular floe with a truly terrifying surprise. And that does the trick for Little Penguin.... unless those hot and spicy celebratory tacos that he and Franklin decide to order up kick in with another round of hiccups, in Tadgh Bentley's Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups (Baker & Bentley, 2015).  In his first picture book, Bentley makes good use of the funny and familiar experience of hiccuping and pokes a bit of fun at the usual remedies in this interactive book which  encourages readers to join in the prescribed cure, which they will no doubt be willing to do with gusto. Bentley's Little Penguin has personality plus, and his unlikely friendship with a killer whale promises some possibilities of more adventures for these two cold weather pals.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sleepless! Fancy Nancy~Saturday Night Sleepover by Jane O'Connor

WAIT TILL YOU HEAR THIS!

MY MOM JUST WON A WEEKEND AT THE
WHISPERING PINES RESORT.

A RESORT IS LIKE A MOTEL, ONLY FANCIER!”

That’s the good news. Nancy and JoJo are ready to start packing when Mom drops the bomb.

“UM....ACTUALLY ONLY DADDY GETS TO COME WITH ME.”

The bad news is that it’s an “adults only” occasion.

Mom and Dad seem unexpectedly excited about going away without Nancy and JoJo along. Nancy is flabbergasted, which is fancy for “I can’t believe this is really happening to me.”

But Nancy’s kind neighbor Mrs. DeVine steps in with the offer of a festive Saturday night sleepover at her house, the fanciest by far in the neighborhood. Before JoJo can manage a full-fledged fuss, Nancy takes charge, describing all the fun she and Bree have had on their sleepovers–-popcorn, pedicures, silly selfies–-and JoJo is mollified, although Nancy is sure she’ll be a little scared when it is time to sleep. It's time for a little big-sisterly reassurance.
“I’LL BE WITH YOU ALL THE TIME,” SHE PROMISES.

And big sister packs everything JoJo may need–-earmuffs to keep out scary sounds, a nightlight to keep away the dark, her bedtime lovey, and her favorite sandwich, in case Mrs. DeVine’s French food is too fancy for her.

And Mrs. DeVine delivers divine diversions for the two sisters. JoJo devours her fancy food like a gourmet, lets Mrs. DeVine re-style her hair and joins a fun fashion show from Mrs. DeVine’s accessory stash. Finally JoJo falls asleep while Nancy watches the late movie.

Mrs. DeVine carries JoJo to bed, and feeling like she’s handled everything like a big sister should, Nancy climbs into the twin bed next to the one where her sister is slumbering. But something’s not quite right.
“IT’S TOO DARK!
IT CAN’T HURT TO TURN ON JOJO’S NIGHTLIGHT....”

It's a long night. As the sleepless hours go by, Nancy uses the emergency supplies she packed for her little sister, earmuffs for strange noises from downstairs and her sister’s sleepytime toy. Nancy even eats JoJo's emergency sandwich, but she still can’t sleep.
“IT’S ALMOST DAWN. THAT’S FANCY FOR SUNRISE.

AND I’M STILL AWAKE.”

There’s only one thing left to do. Insomniac Nancy climbs into bed with her little sister and finally falls asleep, in Jane O’Connor’s and Robin Preiss Glasser’s latest, Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover (Harper, 2016).

Her many fans will empathize with Nancy, while younger siblings will enjoy the irony of this humorous sister story in which the character of JoJo is emerging as a comic counterpoint to her fancy-favoring, know-it-all big sister. Glasser’s familiar illustrations continue to add to the fun of these stories in her many telling touches–-setting detail, facial expressions, and body language–-that make this series a long-time winner.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

You Go, Girl! The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick

EDITH HOUGHTON USED TO SAY,

"I GUESS I WAS BORN WITH A BASEBALL IN MY HAND."

And little Edith certainly had baseball on her mind from the beginning.  The last of ten children, the Houghtons had their own team, and Edith was in the middle of baseball games as soon as she could shag a ball. She insisted on wearing a baseball uniform for her official six-year-old photograph. She was always up for a game, and at night she watched the night ballgames across the street, played under the flickering electric lamps.

By the time Edith was ten years old, she was a local Philly phenomenon, "the kid from Diamond Street" who played like a pro. In fact, she tried out for the Philadelphia women's professional team, "the Bobbies," named for the wildly popular "boyish bob" hairstyle that was all the rage in 1922. The Bobbies were a group of older teens and twenty-something girls, but Edith made the team easily with a starting position at shortstop. Getting a short bob was fine with Edith, but she had some trouble with the
Bobbies' uniform.

EDITH'S CAP KEPT FALLING OFF UNTIL SHE SAFETY-PINNED IT TO A SMALLER SIZE. AND HER TOO-LONG SLEEVES KEPT GETTING IN THE WAY UNTIL SHE ROLLED THEM UP.

NEWSPAPER REPORTERS WROTE ABOUT THE INCREDIBLE PLAYS--AT BAT AND IN THE FIELD--OF THE GIRL THEY CALLED "THE KID."

But The Kid just wanted to play the game, and play she did. In 1925, when Edith was thirteen, the famous Bobbies were invited to barnstorm Japan, to play against boys' and men's teams on a two-month tour. They took the train cross-country to Seattle to board the ocean liner President Jefferson. At first almost everyone, even Edith, was seasick, but they soon rallied, practicing their skills on the deck during the day, and teaching an English earl how to dance the Charleston in the salon at night. On tour the Bobbies enjoyed rickshaw rides and eating with chopsticks and played for huge crowds, tens of thousands of fans, winning a majority of their games and leaving Japan even more baseball-crazy than they found it.

Edith didn't retire from her game when she returned home. She played for years with other women's teams, and when World War II and the Korean War came along, she served as a WAVE in the U.S. Navy. And between stints in the Navy, she worked as a baseball scout for the Philadelphia Fillies and earned recognition in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Audrey Vernick's lively forthcoming picture biography, The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2016), catches the spirit of the kid who lived in the days when there were no places for girls in baseball--no T-ball teams, no leagues, not even a position for females in Little League--a kid who ignored prevailing attitudes just because she loved to play the game. Vernick, who enjoys writing stories of feisty girls, tells this one with a minimum of fuss and bother over Edith's ground-breaking career, emphasizing instead the joys of the game. Steve Salerno's lively illustrations make the most of the spirit of the changing times, the exuberant 1910s and 1920s, when spirit and spunk took young women into the midstream of American life, with emphasis on the joyful and humorous adventures of being a baseball pioneer.

For more about women in baseball, pair this one with Marissa Moss's Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen or Shana Corey's Players In Pigtails.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Do the Web-Foot Wiggle! Duck and Goose: Let's Dance by Tad Hills

ARE YOU READY TO LEARN THE DUCK AND GOOSE DANCE?

Spring has apparently sprung. The sap is rising, and so is the energy level of young ones.

But Duck and Goose have just the thing to get those high spirits channeled into a spring dance. Rites of Spring it's not, but this poultry pair have the moves to find the right grooves.

Jumping forward and back, shaking tail feathers, goose-stepping and duck-walking, Duck and Goose have all the right moves, in Tad Hills' spring song, Duck & Goose, Let's Dance! (with an original song) (Schwartz and Wade, 2016). And don't worry about hiring the band; just follow the included link to download the happy song and dance along, with whatever moves your feet.

Hills' Duck and Goose have their first dance party, suitable for getting the wiggles out of kids before quiet time or getting some indoor exercise when spring rains shutout the games at home or school. Honking and quacking are encouraged, but optional!

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Egg Time, Spring Time: The Happy Egg by Ruth Kraus

IT WAS JUST BORN.

IT WAS AN EGG.

A white bird regards the blue egg she has just laid with some surprise.

It can't do bird things--walk, sing, or fly.

IT COULD JUST BE SAT ON.

And the bird does her duty. She sits on the egg, and one day it surprises her with a CRACK!

Out comes a jaunty blue bird who greets her with a lusty PEEP! And it's ready for action.

It walks right off, page right! It sings like a bird. And then it flies away, right off the page, only to reappear, in the upper right corner, proud and happy.

And, as Ruth Kraus suggests in the new issue of her classic, the little blue bird may someday have her own egg to sit on, in the revised edition of her The Happy Egg (Harper, 2016) Kraus's narrative is beginning-reader simple, and the illustrations provided by her husband, Crockett Johnson (of Harold and the Purple Crayon (Purple Crayon Books) fame) are minimalist, flat, blackline drawings with primary colors--blue and yellow--that tell the story wordlessly with iconic images. There is a flower blooming, so we know it's spring. The hatchling passes in a page turn through early nestling days, fledging and flying right away, in an instant of telescoped growing up. The final page promises a successful transition, with five blue eggs waiting for their turn to be sat on.

With the message that growing up is a hopeful thing, this is the stuff of classic picture book storytelling, and Krauss herself authored two Caldecott Honor books, the iconic The Carrot Seed, 60th Anniversary Edition illustrated by Crockett Johnson, The Happy Day, illustrated by Marc Simont, as well as A Hole Is to Dig, with pictures by Maurice Sendak.

Kirkus Reviews says simply "...deceptively simple and sweet."

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Breaking Bad? How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends? by Jane Yolen

HOW DOES A DINOSAUR KEEP HIS BEST FRIEND

WHEN A TERRIBLE FIGHT JUST MIGHT BE THE END?

Making up is hard to do.

When young dinosaur friends have a fuss, it can be a beaut!

DOES HE WRITE ON THE BLACKBOARD A VERY BAD NAME?

DOES HE TELL ALL THE KIDS THAT HIS FRIEND IS TO BLAME?

Even the best of friends can get into a disagreement that can turn ugly. When he's angry, a dinosaur may do outrageously shocking things--tearing up his friend's book, throwing his lunchbox in the pond, even egging his door to settle the score.

Is this the way to keep a friend?

NO.

All friends fall out of friendship with each other from time to time, but Jane Yolen's latest in series, How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends? (Blue Sky Press, 2016), takes on the tasking of making up after breaking up.

HE SENDS A NICE NOTE TAKING MOST OF THE BLAME.

HE'S SURPRISED WHEN HE FINDS THAT HIS FRIEND DID THE SAME.

Yolen's friendly rhyming couplets portray the ways youngsters can make peace after a squabble--sharing a new toy at a special playdate, making and taking homemade cookies over on a plate, all the ways of saying "Can't we still be friends?" As always in this popular series, Yolen's text and Mark Teague's super-sized illustrations provide the ying and yang of the situation, first the worst alternatives, followed by the preferred examples, done up in Teague's comic style, a spoonful of sugar that takes the sting out of the proffered how-tos of personal life. Making making up a bit easier is the premise of the latest Yolen and Teague collaboration, and as is their custom, Yolen and and Teague offer esoteric examples of dinosaurs, identified on each page and reproduced on the eye-catching endpapers for dino afficionados.

Pair this latest with Yolen's and Teague's recent in their dynamite How Do Dinosaurs series, How Do Dinosaurs Stay Safe? (Blue Sky Press, 2015).

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fantasia! If I Had A Gryphon by Vikki Vansickle

LAST WEEK I GOT A HAMSTER,
MY FIRST AND ONLY PET.

HE MOSTLY EATS AND SLEEPS AND HIDES.
AND GETS HIS SHAVINGS WET.

Sam is experiencing a serious case of pet regret.

Sure, hamsters are cute--when they are doing something. Which, it seems, is usually at night when everyone is asleep.

And for the new pet owner, watching a hamster sleep all day is like watching paint dry.

Sam begins to daydream about better pet picks, and she can't help fantasizing about an exotic pet that can do great stuff. Take the unicorn for example. Besides that special horn, they have those fancy flowing manes that she could braid in super cool styles.

UNICORNS ARE PRETTY,
BUT THEY'RE ALSO VERY SHY.

ON SECOND THOUGHT, I'D LIKE TO GIVE
A HIPPOGRIFF A TRY.

On third thought, though, Sam sees that the hippogriff would not play well with others at the dog park!

Sam mulls over the list of mythical beasts for more possibilities. The kraken? (Scuba gear required!) A dragon? (Must keep fire extinguisher handy!) Jackalope? (Nope!) Phoenix? (See Dragon.) Harpies are bad to bite, and kelpies shun the light.

That hibernation-prone hamster is looking better and better in Vikki Vansickle's brand-new If I Had a Gryphon (Tundra Books, 2016). Vansickle's rhyming imaginings are clever, and Cate Atkinson's comic illustrations of possible pet disasters add to the fun in this what-pet-to-get tale that should make all those less-than-scintillating pets feel a bit more secure. This new one pairs well with the latest Dr. Seuss find, What Pet Should I Get? (Classic Seuss).

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gettin' Down and Dirty! Bloom by Doreen Cronin

ONCE UPON A TIME
IN A BEAUTIFUL GLASS KINGDOM
THERE LIVED AN UNUSUAL FAIRY NAMED BLOOM.

HER BOOTS WERE CAKED WITH MUD. BEETLES RESTED IN HER HAIR.

BLOOM'S MAGIC COULD SPIN WIND INTO GLASS, TURN WEEDS INTO BLOSSOMS, AND GROW TRICKLES OF RAINWATER INTO RACING RIVERS.

That was all well and good with the King and Queen and their snooty court, but Bloom's untidy appearance and sloppy working environment--messy buckets of mud leaving untidy trails about the landscape--did not sit well within the royals's lovely crystal city. Mud here and there definitely spoiled the upscale ambiance.

AS THE YEARS PASSED AND THE KINGDOM BECAME LARGER AND SHINIER, THE PEOPLE CARED LESS AND LESS ABOUT BLOOM'S MAGIC AND NOTICED ONLY THE MESS.

Apparently the rulers of the crystal kingdom were unfamiliar with the old proverb that said, "To make an omelet, you must first break some eggs!"

There is a palace revolt and poor Bloom, mess and all, is banished from the crystal city and flees into the forest, where she finds a happy place to continue her magic.

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones! And kings and queens who live in glass castles shouldn't cast aspersions on fairies, either. Fairies can have dirty tricks up their gossamer sleeves. Slowly the city loses its pristine sparkle. The glass castle acquires ghastly cracks. The river dries up, and with it the beautiful flowers and trees that had graced the grounds.

THE CASTLE WAS HELD TOGETHER BY DUCT TAPE, GLUE, AND PEASANTS.

At first the King goes a progress into the forest to find Bloom, but is put off by her proffered bucket of mud. So he sends Genevieve, a self-effacing chambermaid whose only task is polishing the Queen's crystal sugar spoon, whom he hopes will have more luck. Bloom is bemused and queries why such a small and delicate emissary has been sent to her for help.

"BECAUSE I AM ORDINARY!" ANSWERED GENEVIEVE.

Her answer pleases the down-to-earth fairy, and Bloom sets to work, teaching Genevieve the lost art of molding her beloved mud into sturdy bricks, and together they build a strong and beautiful house in the forest. The royals are impressed with what a messy fairy and an un-ordinary girl can do, and they are invited back to the kingdom to teach the subjects to get down and dirty, building a solid city of bricks and learning the value of toil in the soil.

In a departure from her popular stories of comical animals, Doreen Cronin's latest, Bloom (Atheneum Books, 2016) is a parable of appearance vs. reality, with a lesson in civic responsibility starring two extra-ordinary girls. Caldecott winner David Small contributes comic light and airy-as-a-fairy watercolor illustrations, with a freckle-faced, red-haired heroine of a fairy who teaches a lesson in sensible cooperation with a bright grin, assisted by a design that uses assorted fonts, even Gothic capitals, to add a spritely lift to this modern fairy story. Publisher's Weekly gives Cronin's newest a starred review, calling it a "...smart, subversive fairy tale."

Cronin's works include the best-selling series begun with Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, and David Small's Caldecott honors include So You Want to Be President?, The Gardener (Caldecott Honor Award), and One Cool Friend. (See review here).

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Coping with Change! The Thing about Spring by Daniel Kirk

"THE WORLD LOOKS A LITTLE DIFFERENT TODAY," MOUSE SAID ONE BRIGHT MORNING.

Ah! The first signs of spring!

Everybody loves them, right?

Apparently not in this forest. Mouse and Bird are rhapsodizing about budding trees and warmth in the air, but Rabbit is not at all pleased. With a sour expression, he is going about the meadow, scooping up the vestiges of melting snowdrifts into his pail. Mouse inquires about Rabbit's curious behavior.

"SAVING SNOW WHILE I CAN!" SAID RABBIT. "WE WON'T SEE ANY MORE OF THAT UNTIL NEXT YEAR!"

Some of us have problems with transitions, and Rabbit seems to be the only one in the woods who is going to miss snow. Ever the contrarian, he points out that snow helps him track down his friends, and it is useful for snow forts and snowball fights.

Bird points out that Rabbit won't be cold when spring comes, and besides, he and Mouse are not going anywhere anyway.

But Rabbit has another complaint.

"THE THING ABOUT SPRING IS THAT BEAR IS WAKING UP. I KNOW HOW BAD HE SMELLS AT THE END OF A LONG WINTER, AND I'M SURE HE'LL WANT A HUG."

And right on cue, a disheveled Bear appears, and Rabbit, holding his nose, suffers through a stinky embrace, just as a warm vernal drizzle begins to fall.

"THE THING ABOUT SPRING IS THAT IT RAINS WHEN YOU'RE NOT EXPECTING IT," RABBIT WHINGES.

But Bear replies that the falling rain is right on time to give him a good wash, as he pointedly scrubs his armpits.

But nothing about the change of the seasons pleases Rabbit. It's too noisy. Birds peep and squirrels chatter! It's all so annoying. Rabbit is all hot and bothered from the whole conversation.

And now he is thirsty!

Bear agrees that all this palaver is making him thirsty, too, giving Rabbit a chance to have the last word:

"WELL, THEN," SAID RABBIT, "YOU SHOULD BE GLAD I SAVED SOME SNOW. LOOK INSIDE MY PAIL!"

Daniel Kirk's newest tale, The Thing About Spring (Abrams Books, 2016), gives the curmudgeon in all of us a chance to complain about change. Story books are full of joyful rabbits and bouncy bunnies as the harbinger of spring, but Kirk turns the tables on our expectations with a truly funny bunny who takes a cranky stand in favor of snow. With delightfully wry dialog, he gives his Rabbit his moment in the sun, whether he likes it or not. Kirk's signature style of illustration, with his characters mostly full frontal or profiled, has a look all his own, giving this novel seasonal story a new twist.

Kirk's earlier books include his popular Library Mouse
series and Ten Thank-You Letters.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

At the End of the Line: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena

C. J. STEPPED THROUGH THE CHURCH DOOR, SKIPPING DOWN THE STEPS.

THE OUTSIDE SMELLED LIKE FREEDOM.

It's Sunday, and church is finally over, but C. J. is not happy. For one thing, it's raining. For another, he sees his friends heading home in their nice dry cars to play for the rest of the day.

"HOW COME I GOTTA WAIT FOR THE BUS IN ALL THIS WET?" HE GRUMBLES.

"TREES GET THIRSTY, TOO," SAID NANA.

"HOW COME WE DON'T HAVE A CAR?" CONTINUES C.J.

But Nana's got an answer for that one, too. She points out that he's got a bus that breathes fire like a dragon, with Mr. Dennis the driver who can magically pull coins from his ears. C. J. pockets the coin, but he is still not mollified. Across the aisle from his seat he sees a boy listening to his iPod, and grumbles aloud that he sure wishes he had his own music.

"WHAT FOR?" SAYS NANA. "YOU GOT THE REAL THING SITTIN' ACROSS FROM YOU."

And the guy with the guitar sitting nearby obliges by serenading the passengers. C.J. closes his eyes to listen like the blind man behind him, and even the kids take out their earbuds to listen and feel that live music magic. Everyone, even Sunglass Man and Tattoo Guy, applauds.

Then they are there. The driver calls the last stop on the route.

C. J. and Nana get off and hurry through the rain and through a drab door where they find soggy homeless people waiting hopefully for them to serve dinner, and C. J. loses a little of his dark mood, seeing how grateful everyone is. Then it's time for the bus ride home.

Outside, Market Street is a sad sight, dingy gray walls, peeling paint. Still grumpy, C.J. wonders aloud ...

"HOW COME IT'S ALWAYS SO DIRTY OVER HERE?"

"SOMETIMES, WHEN YOU'RE SURROUNDED BY DIRT, C. J." NANA SAYS, "YOU'RE A BETTER WITNESS FOR WHAT'S BEAUTIFUL."

And as if the sky heard Nana, C.J. looks up to see a bright rainbow over Market Street, in Matt De La Pena's 2016 Newbery Award-winning Last Stop on Market Street (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2015). From his grandmother's gentle premise that poor in the pocketbook is not the same as poor in spirit, C. J.'s eyes are opened to the good around him.

Christian Robinson's simple, stylized illustrations, a variety of human figures shown mostly in profile, are balanced by the myriad of shapes and colors in the urban scene surrounding them, De La Pena's book swept the awards for the year, being named a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, the 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, becoming a New York Times best seller, a New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2015, and The Huffington Post's Best Overall Picture Book of 2015. And readers will agree with C.J as he says as he boards the bus, "I'm glad we came."

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Averting Cat-astrophe! Just A Duck? by Carin Bramsen

"MY GOOD FRIEND DUCK! WHY DO YOU SLINK LIKE THAT? SAID CAT.

I AM A CAT," SAID DUCK.

"BUT YOU DON'T LOOK LIKE ME.

I WILL, WHEN I GROW UP. YOU'LL SEE!" SAID DUCK.

Cat and Duck are best friends, and Duck wants to do everything Cat can do.

But cat can do some intimidating things. Slinking is the easiest of them, as the little duckling ducks his fuzzy head low and waddles unseen through the tall grass.

Cat points out that Duck doesn't seem to have two pointy ears. He doesn't seem to have any ears!

Duck is undeterred, and the empathetic Cat rushes to reassure his friend. Maybe duck will grow some ears soon, he suggests.

To encourage his friend, he promises to show him his favorite tree.

"I'LL RACE YOU TO THE TOP!" HE SAYS. "LET'S GO!"

But climbing a tree is a no-go for webbed feet. Duck quickly finds himself on his back on the ground, looking up at Cat in the tree. It seems claws are required for climbing.

"YOUR CLAWS MIGHT NEED SOME TIME TO GROW," CAT SAYS HOPEFULLY.

The two agree that while they wait for Duck's ears and claws to grow, they will do something they can both do already. Cat suggests a game of chase, and when Cat gets too close, Duck flutters into the lake. Cat leaps after him, and ....

SPLASH!

Cat struggles in the chilly water and manages to clamber precariously up on a log, His fur is bedraggled and his eyes are wild.

Duck paddles speedily to Cat, gently pushing the log toward the shore, where Cat makes his trademark leap for the land. Duck swims up and beaches himself neatly, and Cat is agog at his friend's swimming.

"ARE YOU SOME SORT OF SUPERCAT?" HE ASKS HIS WEB-FOOTED FRIEND.

But Duck has to tell it like it is. He's just a duck who can do what ducks do, in Carin Bramsen's sweet story of unlikely friends, Just a Duck? (Random House, 2015). Sometimes opposites attract, and readers know that somehow this odd couple will be combining their talents in more adventures to come. Bramsen's illustrations are soft and textured, with big baby eyes and AWWWW-inspiring charm that is nigh irresistible. Youngsters will identify with the problem of accepting differences with their playmates. Not everybody is good at everything friends can do, but as Duck's water rescue proves, different strokes for different folks can often get the job done.

Pair this one with its predecessor, Hey, Duck! for a ducky spring duo.

"A gently funny story of the differences, similarities, and compromises that make for rewarding friendships," says Publishers Weekly.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Love You, Bro! Big Brothers Are The Best by Fran Manushkin

OUR BABY IS LITTLE, AND I AM BIG.

I AM A BIG BROTHER!

Big brothers are busy. They have to learn to put up with loud bawling and stinky diapers from the new baby. They have to share Dad and Mom with THE BABY, whether they like it or not.

But big brothers have perks! They sleep in a big-boy bed instead of a baby crib. And when trying to be quiet during baby's naptime gets to be too much quiet, big brothers get to go outside by themselves and yell and kick a soccer ball all around the backyard. And when the baby goes to bed early, they get special playtime with their parents, building castles with Mom and flying toy planes with Dad.

They are big enough to help dress the baby and retrieve a clean nappy when he needs a change!

And a big brother is big enough to know that this baby won't always be a baby.

"ONE DAY YOU WILL BE BIG ENOUGH TO PLAY WITH ME!"

For families with an only child suddenly promoted to big brother status, Fran Manuskin's Big Brothers Are the Best (Fiction Picture Books) (Picture Window/Capstone Books) takes the new sibling through the steps of older siblinghood, accentuating the positive and the promise of a future friend and playmate. Kristen Richards' simple illustrations spot the art in appealing vignettes of family life that inspire big brothers to settle into what is, after all, to be their lifetime roles!

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Friday, March 18, 2016

This Book Brought to You by the Letter Y! No Yeti Yet! by Mary Ann Fraser

"IT'S A PERFECT DAY FOR A YETI HUNT!

Forget going on a bear hunt! Big brother is looking for really big game. Little brother is not so sure. He asks the salient question:

"WHY WOULD WE WANT TO FIND A YETI?"

Big Brother says he wants to take a photo, and suited up for snow, with his camera in his pocket, he forges on ahead through the drifts, little brother trailing in his footsteps.

"HOW WILL WE KNOW WHEN WE SEE ONE?

Big brother has done his research, and he says yetis are big and very strong, shaggy and white, like the pine trees in the woods, and  smells like wet wool. They have huge feet and run fast through snow. Big brother leads them through the snowy woods, but little brother is still not fully on board with the quest.  He looks around a bit fearfully. Every snowy tree looks like a yeti to him.

"DO YOU SEE A YETI?"

"NO YETI YET."

The brothers trudge up a hill and have a glorious slide down the other side. Little brother inquires where yetis live and gets a reply that doesn't reassure him at all.

"IN A DEEP, DARK CAVE."

And after many laconic answers of "Yup," "Nope," and "No Yeti yet," they find a cave. Big brother leads the way inside, following some humongous tracks.

YOWL!

"YIKES"

It's a yeti sighting for sure, right behind them. Big brother's camera flashes and drops to the floor of the cave and the brothers run for home without a backward look.

Safe behind their locked door, the two boys see a surprisingly friendly face at their window--their yeti, smiling and holding up their dropped camera.

Do yetis like hot cocoa? Yup, this one does, and it's an occasion for a yeti selfie, in Mary Ann Fraser's No Yeti Yet (Peter Pauper Press, 2015).

Among the plethora of yeti tales this winter, this one stands out for its sly use of suspense and spare dialog between the two brothers as they stalk the wily yeti through the wintry scene. Fraser's illustrations provide the comic counterpoint to the deadpan serious hunters, with her jolly yeti, planted, semi-concealed in every page, to the delight of story circle kids. Readers will be chiming in on the refrain, "No Yeti Yet!" while spotting the not-a-bit-scary yeti who wryly stalks his stalkers, even building his own not-so-abominable snowman in the background. "Light, wintry fun for the cryptozoologically inclined," says Publishers Weekly.

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Just Call Me Mama! Duck, Duck, Dinosaur by Kallie George

MAMA DUCK'S EGGS HADN'T HATCHED YET.

BUT ALREADY SHE FELT LIKE THE LUCKIEST DUCK IN THE POND.

Mama Duck is a doting mother. She admires the two white eggs and the one large, green, spotted one that she had found and diligently pushed up hill with her bill the day before. Everything is ready for the big event.

Crrrr--rack! The first white egg crazes and then cracks open and out comes a yellow duckling.

MAMA NAMES HER FEATHER!M

And as siblings will do, Feather and Flap begin to show off and outdo the other.

"I AM BIG," SAID FEATHER.

I'M BIG, TOO! I'M BIG, TOO! COUNTERS FLAP.

Not to be topped, Feather ruffles up her feathers and stands tall on her tiptoes.

"BUT I AM BIGGER!" SHE SAID.

But before the two siblings can top each other further, there's another, mightier CRRR-AAACK!

The green egg splits massively and out comes a very large and very green baby dinosaur!

Mama Duck names him Spike and gives him a kiss on his spiny head and settles down to admire her sweet family.

But the ducklings are not done competing. When Feather and Flap try to outdo each other with their funny dives into the pond, Spike hits the water in a humongous belly buster and wins that round.

"FUNNY!" HE PROCLAIMS.

But when the new hatchees are all cold and wet from their watery exploits, Mama knows best! Stretching out as far as she can, she nestles all three under her warm, feathery wings.

"HAPPY!" SAYS SPIKE.

It's all in a mama's day in Kallie George's Duck, Duck, Dinosaur (HarperCollins, 2016). George's narration takes it step by step with plenty of repetition, making this one easy listening and easy reading for storytime or beginning emergent readers. Oriol Vidal adds the simple and vivid illustrations, making this a funny and happy spring duckling tale.

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Power of Suggestion: Can You Yawn Like a Fawn? by Monica Sweeney and Lauren Yelvington

CAN YOU YAWN LIKE A FAWN?

For kids who seem to be hard-wired to be "wired," getting to that good goodnight can be a heavy lift. Subtitled A Help Your Child to Sleep Book, this one offers some counsel to the parent who is weary of the patter of little feet from out of the bedroom long after bedtime is past.

"Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant" Lauren Yelvington partners with author Monica Sweeney in a How-To that offers some suggestions on the psychology and physiology of sleep science for tots, with the familiar sleep hygiene advice to darken the room, shutting out outside light and turning off the red, green, and blue glows from electronics, providing warm baths and perhaps adding some white noise.

Then there is the siren call of "everybody's doing it!"

ALL AROUND THE WORLD, ALL THE LITTLE ANIMALS ARE GOING TO SLEEP.

That technique uses the power of suggestion, which brings in author Monica Sweeney, who provides a narrative of baby animals settling down to sleep, utilizing the "yawn response" when we see someone else yawn. After hitting upon the jolly internal rhyme of "Can you yawn like a fawn?" Sweeney invites kids to imitate a series of other yawning bedtime baby critters--a little polar penguin leans on Mom's downy lap, a desert lion cub snuggles up inside the curl of Papa's tail, while a river hippo, a fluffy farm lamb, a kitten by starlight, and a puppy dozing off with Mama Pooch (where else?) on the family bed all indulge in big wide-mouthed yawns.

After being exposed to yawning ducklings, an affectionate little sleepy savanna elephant, and a curled-up prairie mouse, the parent reading the story may be the first to yawn, followed soon (one hopes) by the child.

But what really makes this book work as a soporific bedtime story are Laura Watkin's gorgeously colored and textured, splendidly soft-lit paintings of diverse animal parents with child that make Sweeney's Can You Yawn Like a Fawn?: A Help Your Child to Sleep Book (St. Martin's Castle Point, 2016) a happy example of picture book art to share with a child, even if he or she is a super sleeper! (For proof, watch Macmillan Publishing's slide show of Watkin's artwork here.)

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Getting to YES! Hypnosis Harry by Catherine Bailey

HARRY'S PARENTS SAID NO TO EVERYTHING.

"NO toys in the toaster."

"NO robot dragons before 7 a.m."

But an infomercial on television offers Harry an inspiration--a way to procure permanent positive responses from his parents--HYPNOSIS!

Harry digs out his grandpa's old pocket watch and practices a slow steady pendulum swing in front of his cat. But it's a little hard to tell if his technique is working, since the cat sleeps most of the time anyway.

But he hits paydirt with the tot next door.

"Look deep into my eyes....

You... are... tired... of ... your... toys..."

Flushed with power, Harry proceeds to hypnotize his parents. As their eyes glaze over, he whispers...

"From now on, you will always say yes!"

"For dinner, I would like cupcakes. With a side of bacon."

At last Harry is in control. His parents wordlessly order anything he requests--a drum kit, crates of comic books, a trampoline, fireworks, and, not one, but two monkeys! He sacks the babysitter, and bans broccoli from the house.

Harry can do whatever he wants. He can do the forbidden--let his baby sister dig in the garden, enjoy free rein with a glue bottle, and even, horrors, touch the goldfish!

But things begin to go awry. The robot wrecks the rec room. The monkeys run amok. And when Harry invites his classmates to climb the tricerotops skeleton at the museum, they are forbidden to come over to Harry's house any more.

Still, Harry remains the happy hypnotist--until one day at the park, perfecting his ninja leap from the swing, he crashes into a girl on a bike. Her mom rushes to comfort her and point out that riding too close to the swings is a no-no. Harry's foot hurts, but his parents just sit on the grass in a stupor.

Harry looked to his parents for sympathy.

They drooled gently on their shoes.

Harry limps home, his zombie-like parents trailing behind. The monkeys are making even more of a mess of the house, with pizza boxes piled high, and melting ice cream all over the carpet.

At last Harry understands why parents say NO, what all those rules really mean.

Be safe.

Be nice

I love you.

And Harry knows just how to snap his parents out of their trance. He begs them to wake up and even say NO sometimes.

All's well that ends well--with a thorough housecleaning, a bath for Harry, and a review of the rules, in Catherine Bailey's hilarious latest, Hypnosis Harry (Sky Pony Press, 2016), in which our young hero learns that having permissive parents isn't all it's cracked up to be. Bailey's theme goes down easy, with a hug from Harry's parents, in a gentle cautionary tale about the perils of too much freedom, bolstered by artist Sarita Rich's wryly humorous page design which reinforces the premise with illustrations of misbehaviors that spill past the page margins and crafty use of fonts that highlight the highjinks. This story of wish-fulfillment fantasy is as much fun for young readers as a barrel of monkeys.

But is hypnosis on a permanent hiatus in Harry's household? Maybe, maybe not.... The final page shows Baby Sis in possession of the pocket watch, busy mesmorizing the monkeys....

Bailey's earlier book was her 2015 Mind Your Monsters. (see my review here.)

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