BooksForKidsBlog

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Not Sheepish! Brave Little Finn (Sweet Pea and Friends) by John and Jennifer Churchman


One cold winter morning, a shy little lamb was born.

"We'll call you Finn," said Farmer John. He held him close, keeping him warm inside his green barn jacket.

Finn had been born early and wasn't as big and strong as the other lambs.

Growing up is hard to do, especially when you've got a lot of ground to make up to keep up with your friends. But Team Sheep Ranch goes to work, making sure Little Finn is warm and well fed, and all the flock is rooting for Finn.

Finn's big sister Sweet Pea visited him every day, even when it was windy and cold. She would put on her favorite woolly scarf and come up to the farm house to tell him all the news from the barn.

Little Finn spent his days by the fireplace and made friends with the dogs and puppies.

Finn is still shy, even when spring begins to show up outside the farm house. It's a big world out there, but Finn is done with the baby bottle and out of his baby diaper and ready to explore, with the collie Maisie Grace keeping a loving eye on him.

"Be brave, Little Finn. I will be with you," said Maisie Grace.

And when Finn meets the other lambs--Atticus, Meadow and Hayzel--they are full of questions about being raised inside the house. Then they take on the task of teaching him how to be a outdoor lamb in the flock. He visits Frog at the pond and meets the color purple in the just-blooming lilacs and the busy bees at work in the meadow. He also meets another small but intimidating creature.

"Spiders are so SCARY!" he tells Laddie the dog.

The big tractor parked in the darkest reaches of the barn looks like a crouching monster to Finn, but the most intimidating thing out in the field is a pile of hay bales, stacked up like a massive pyramid. The other lambs compete with each other to see who can climb the fastest and the highest. Little Finn wonders if he ever will be able to reach the peak of that towering mountain. But each day he gets a bit higher... until one day Little Finn is no longer timid; his now bouncy legs bound all the way to the top--and everyone, Maisie Grace, Atticus, Meadow, Hayzel, Sadie, and Laddie, and of course sister Sweat Pea, are all there to cheer.

Shy Little Finn is now strong and brave in John and Jennifer Churchover's lastest lamb story, Brave Little Finn (Sweet Pea & Friends) (Little, Brown and Company, 2016). The authors capture the truth of how really formidable it is to face the big world, whether you are a little lamb or a small child, and restate the truism that even with lots of love, you still have to do most of the work for yourself. John Churchman's homemade photographs from his farm bring out all the too-cute-for-words charm of his little lambs and the robust devotion of his shepherd dogs in this sweet story of a shy lamb's coming of age. This one will be resonant with young children who face their own mountains to climb as they grow.

John and Jennifer Churchman's other tales of life on the sheep ranch include The SheepOver (Sweet Pea & Friends) (read review here) and A Farm for Maisie (Sweet Pea & Friends).

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Where's Kitty? Spot, The Cat by Henry Cole

It's a lazy weekend afternoon, and a young boy is sprawled on the couch with his book, while his cat, white with one large black spot on his side, is stretched out on the back of the sofa. But the cat is alert, switching his tail at a bird, sitting on a potted flower on the sill of the open window.

Suddenly the bird flies, and unbeknownst to his young owner, the cat leaps after him, onto the window sill.

Outside, the cat cannily makes its way down the branches of an tall, ornamental tree planted on the balcony below and from there leaps from balcony to the iron staircase balustrade and strolls across the busy street below.

Inside, the boy stirs and looks around for his cat on the sofa back. He peers out the window, he checks the kitchen, where the bowl, monogrammed SPOT, sits empty. Alarmed, the boy prints out some LOST CAT posters and dashes down to the street to post his signs hopefully. But he is too late to spot Spot the cat, who is down the next block, crossing the boat canal on yet another railing.

The cat dashes across a grassy park where kites of all kinds are in full flight, with the boy not too far behind. Outside the huge museum (where a sign "CATS" proclaims an exhibit inside) the cat sits to watch a child. But where's Spot? The boy quickly passes out his posters as he passes the fire station, while at the end of the block, a spotted dog jerks at his leash and the cat accelerates from stroll to full speed flight.

In the vast domed lobby of a railroad station, the cat seems to disappear in the milling throng of passengers pulling luggage. Wait! Is that Spot, heading out one exit?

In a tour de force execution of the Where's Waldo? premise, noted artist Henry Cole's Spot, the Cat (Little Simon, 2016) even plays with his title, as the book becomes a game of Spot the Cat, in which each page becomes a challenge to locate the wandering cat. Taking the place of text, Cole's illustrations are remarkable, done in meticulous black and white pen-and-ink drawings in which crosshatching and enticing cityscape detail camouflage each stage of the jaunty feline's outdoor adventure. Cole's busy urban scenes bustle with the almost audible sounds of honking horns, barking dogs, and rumbling traffic.

All ends well, of course, with the homing kitty beating the mournful boy back home, where both of them share a much-needed cuddle and nap on that sofa. And for those sharp-eyed readers who relish a visual puzzle, it's a good Saturday afternoon adventure for all. As Kirkus Reviews says, "Finding the feline is tricky for readers, too, as the artist inserts many red herrings. When child and cat finally reunite, the sweet relief feels immediate and intimate--and all that looking so very much worth it."

And for those kids who dote on the "The Cat Came Back" theme, this one pairs well with Kate Banks' City Cat (see review here).

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Poofy Pussycat! Papillon the Very Fluffy Kitty by A. N. Kang

PAPILLON IS A BIG KITTY. HE'S NOT FAT, JUST VERY FLUFFY.

It's important for a pussycat to be fairly fluffy. But there can be too much of a good thing. That's Papillon's problem.

HE'S LIGHTER THAN AIR!

But despite his perculiar problem, Papillon is a pampered pet. His owner, Miss Tilly, dresses him in costumes, cute costumes like a pepperoni pizza, a piece of sushi, or a squatty tree, that are weighted enough to keep him from floating out the window. But cats hate wearing costumes, and Papillon has soon had enough of it. He pulls off his his ghost costume and refuses even to wear Miss Tilly's little pirate eyepatch.

And he floats right out the window. Papillon loves it... for a while. And then he spots a pretty red bird and tries to float after him. But birds have wings. Cats don't.

Papillon finds himself floating into a dark forest, full of strange creatures. A squirrel stares, an owl ogles, a snake snickers, and a startled elk gawks as he floats by. It's all rather awkward. And then things get scary. A big black bear bungles a swipe at him and a crocodile snaps his jaws just south of Papillon's tootsies.

Now this is serious!

But lucky for this light-weighted kitty; a kind red bird flies by and takes him in tow toward home. And all's well that ends with Papillon well moored, as he is delivered to Miss Tilly's living room, a wiser, but no less fluffy feline, in A. N. Kang's Papillon, Book 1 The Very Fluffy Kitty, Papillon (Disney Hyperion, 2016). While Kang's story line is a little, er, lightweight, his illustrations, done in soft colored pencil drawings, with curvaceous hand-lettering, make the most of this lighthearted story. Papillon in his unwanted costumes makes a perfect Grumpy Cat, and Miss Tilly's inventive solution to Papillon's problem offers a satisfying surprise conclusion. Says Publishers Weekly, "Kang's a talent to watch," and Kirkus Review adds, "Puffy Papillon's the most charming puss to pop up in years!"

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sand, Surf, and Moonshine: Vampirina at the Beach by Anne Marie Pace

When the summer moon is full, a beach trip is an epic way to spend the night.

No need to pack the sunscreen! Vampires surf at night!

Vampirina and her family load up the big black hearse, and with her surfboard tied to the roof, head off to the ocean side just as the the sun is sinking into the sea.

And with the full moon rising in the sky, there is plenty of light for these denizens of the dark, as they unload their cooler, the beach blanket and umbrella to ward off those moonbeams, and stake out their spot on the sand with their R.I.P. marker. The sea bats circle as they slather on their SPF50 moonscreen, and then they're ready for fun.

Little brother Frankie builds his haunted sand castle. There's a treasure chest hunt for all the little monsters, and then it's time to hit the waves. Big sister Vampirina hands Frankie his floatie, reminds him to always swim with a buddy, whether it's another little boy or a sea monster, and to stay in sight of the life guard.

Her sisterly duties discharged, she is ready to swim out beyond the breakers for some surfboarding.

Vampirina puts her ballerina skills to good use, as she goes into a perfect plie' as she stands up to catch a gnarly swell, which turns into a monster WAVE. Uh-Oh!

WIPEOUT!

Vampirina bounces back, but decides it's time to do some leisurely snorkeling, and with a friendly little werewolf, she explores an enticing shipwreck down deep.

And as the moon begins to sink in the sky, there's one more thing Vampirina just has to do--join the Massive Midnight Dance Contest, where she partners with her werewolf friend, a sure-enough Moon Doggie, and brings home the first place trophy.

In "Countess" Anne Marie Pace's third book in series, Vampirina at the Beach (Disney Hyperion, 2017), there are plenty of pseudo-scary visual gags and vampire puns for young monster fans seek out in this unusual oceanside outing. Ace artist Leuyen Tham provides the moonlit illustrations with lots of comic touches, including a four-page gatefold that depicts the grand finale of the Midnight Monster Dance scene in all its pre-dawn gory glory. Share this one with Brian Lies' classic, Bats at the Beach (A Bat Book) for a spectacular pair of lunar-lit reads.

Other Vampirina books are Vampirina Ballerina and Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover (see reviews here).

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Classic Confrontation! The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt

Long ago, in an ancient and distant realm called the "Kingdom of Backyard, there lived a warrior named Rock.

Rock was the strongest in all the land, but he was sad because no one could give him a worthy challenge.

Rock is rowdy, rough, and reckless, ignorant of the challengers who live just beyond the bounds of his fiefdom in the Great Manor House--the mythic heroes, Paper and Scissors.

In the Empire of Mom's Home Office rules the powerful Paper, whose joust with Computer Printer ends with Paper's best tactic--the Jam. And in the Kitchen Realm, in the tiny village of Junk Drawer, dwells Scissors, who easily holds sway, sharply besting Freezer's icy minions, dinosaur-shaped frozen chicken nuggets. These Champions of the Indoor Domain are also spoiling for the Battle of the Century.

Word spreads throughout the Known World that a detente has been declared until the three mighty conquerors can meet on the field of honor, the Wasteland of Two-Car Garage! In the Battle of the Century (um, make that several centuries,), it's a showdown between mythical opponents who, it must be said, live on in legendary lore as the iconic Keepers of the Peace among kids, providing a fast and peaceful, not to mention hands-on, method of settling disputes.

Two kings of picture book comedy combine their powers in The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (Balzer and Bray, 2017) in the, er, blockbuster book of the season, Author Drew Daywalt, the venerated Chronicler of Crayons (in his mega-hits, The Day the Crayons Quit, and sequel, The Day the Crayons Came Home) tells his tale of the battle of the titans well, with his mighty comrade in arms, stalwart artist Adam Rex providing the boldly clever and comedic warriors whose deeds will keep kids in gales of giggles. The critics can't bestow enough accolades for this one, passing out enough stars in their reviews to keep Daywalt's and Rex's family escutcheons long shining brightly in the picture book firmament.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

The Eye of the Hurricane: Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code by Amy Cherrix

When school was called off on October 22, 2012, thirteen-year-old Angela Dresch excitedly messaged her friend from the windy beach near her home:

"HURRICANE SANDY COME GET ME."

By 6:28 p.m., the situation on Staten Island had deteriorated. Angela sent a last frantic text to her friend.

"JENNA MY DINING ROOM IS FLOATING."

In what looked like a scene from a disaster movie, a fourteen-foot ocean swell rolled into her neighborhood like a tidal wave. The whole dining room was ripped off the house.

Hurricane Sandy had arrived.

Hurricane Sandy was called a super storm, 1,100 miles in diameter as it approached land. The people of the northern Atlantic, especially coastal New Jersey and New York, knew it was coming, but not what it would bring--a storm surge of wild water with waves up to 40 feet high, into a heavily populated area on the coast, flooding rains, and a three-foot snowstorm in West Virginia.

The meteorologists at NOAA knew a big storm was coming, but their hurricane hunters, intrepid pilots who flew into its eye, reported the wind speeds would make Sandy only a Category 1 storm, far from the worst the coast had experienced. People battened down to ride out the storm in place, What they didn't know about Super Storm Sandy's last hours offshore resulted in the deaths of 117 people in the U.S., including thirteen-year-old Angela Dresch.

One thing NOAA knew they needed to know was how a fast a tropical storm is intensifying. Scientists know many phenomena--wind sheer, approaching high pressure centers over land, and the current phase in lunar tides--can quickly change the path, speed, and deadliness of storms.

But one mystery remains--how to gauge the potential for the rapid intensification of the winds which determine the danger to humans from such storms.

Enter the mission, named Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) and of the Global Hawk, a large unmanned drone aircraft. A land-bound "crew" of more than 200 meteorologists, engineers, and physicists are assigned the task of of revolutionizing the way hurricanes are predicted. Starting in 2011, the scientists began to develop the procedures and equipment to measure the rate of intensification in dangerous hurricanes, the better to determine whether people in the path of a storm should be evacuated. They utilized the new tools of their trade--AVAS, Advanced Vertical Atmospheric Profiling, a technique in which measuring devices called dropsondes, released from the drone frequently to transmit data which tells how the storm is developing, CPL, Cloud Physics Lidar, using laser scanning to report cloud formations. There was just one problem. Their project was funded for only three hurricane seasons, and coming down the home stretch, there had been no major hurricanes to study during this period.

Enter Tropical Storm Edouard. At last the big, sleek drone, Global Hawk, is readied to fly and follow the storm as it intensifies into a major hurricane--a chance to learn how to predict how fast hurricane winds intensify as they approach landfall.

The onboard technology is ready, and the drone pilots for the 24-hour mission are at their computers, ready for lift off.  The big drone takes off almost silently, and the various scientists take their seats in front of their various devices, ready to analyze data as it flows back in. There is no big drama in this liftoff--no roaring engines, scuttling ground crews or media swarm--just drone pilots and scientists bathed in the glow of their screens as they follow the progress of their aircraft, flying hundreds of miles away, going where no craft has gone for so long before.

The Global Hawk flies perfectly, its instruments perform flawlessly, and the careful return descent is carefully calculated to preserve their precious data. Then comes the big moment.

Hollywood couldn't have written a better ending than this perfect flight during the last weeks of the mission. The Global Hawk touches down on the tarmac in a whisper-soft textbook landing.

In her forthcoming Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code (Scientists in the Field Series) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) author Amy Cherrix points out that for these jubilant scientists their work is just beginning. Data will be downloaded, studied, evaluated. Scientific papers will be written, peer-reviewed, and published. Science is long, and it will be a while before the knowledge from the flight of Global Hawk is ready to be put to use by the National Weather Service and local authorities  making the call for hurricane preparation in threatened areas, but the flight of Global Hawk will provide information that may save lives of people like Angela Dresch and the others who died needlessly in Super Storm Sandy.

This most recent in excellent Scientists in the Field, this new title captures the drama of those scientists who work outside the ivory towers to collect the raw data upon which scientific advances are made, bit by bit. Author Cherrix offers an accessible explanation of hurricane development and individualizes the key people with so much at stake in their research mission. Dresch's dramatic opening and a readable narration capture the quiet but essential discoveries that may save future lives. Appended is the essential glossary of the alphabet soup of terms, an extensive bibliography for researching students, a helpful section on home hurricane preparedness, chapter notes, and an index.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hitting Her Goal: Ten A Soccer Story by Shamini Flint

Brazil is my favorite soccer team in the whole wide world, but I'm not Brazilian. I'm Malaysian, and I live in a small coastal town called Kuantan with my mom and dad and my brother Rajiv, who is older than me and a real pain

Once every four years, during the World Cup, I support Brazil. I feel Brazilian--because of the way the team plays soccer, like kids on a beach. Besides, Malaysia never qualifies for the World Cup--and I have to support someone.

Rajiv says soccer is a boy's game, but he hates it. Mom and Dad are too busy arguing with each other late into the night to care about who scores. So it's just Maya and the television, pretending to be Brazil's superstar Zico.

Maya feels like a minority everywhere. She is half-Indian, half-English, so she's not really Malaysian. Her grumpy Indian grandmother, Amamma, laments that she's too tall and skinny to find a husband, rich and beautiful and snooty Nurhayati at school won't speak to her, and everyone tells her soccer in a boy's game.

I am not Zico. I am Maya. I am eleven years old and I've never actually kicked a soccer ball. Not a real one. Not even once.

It seems so real, being out in the sunshine with the Brazilians. In this dark living room, the cane furniture,the whirring of fan, all alone in the middle of the night, watching the World Cup on television seems like a dream.

But Maya decides to give her dream a tryout. She wheedles her mother into buying her a soccer ball. Maya struggles with the moves that seem so effortless when her favorite hero makes them, but she keeps trying. She even talks her mom into standing in the middle of their little yard so that she can practice driving the ball around her. And when she goes inside to make dinner, Mom plops a potted rosebush down in her place.

Finally Maya thinks she is ready to take her ball to school and find someone to play with her. Nurhayati is quick to point out that girls don't play soccer. But then Sok Mun timidly offers to share a kick around with her.

Amazingly, a few other girls begin to join in the fun, and when at last Nurhayati asks to play, Maya finds that she has a group of ten, a real team. As the school year goes on, they play better and better and join a league. And when their goalie is hurt, her place is taken by the dark, stolid outcast of the class, Batumalar, who turns out to be a fearless tiger in the cage. Maya's team wins all their matches. And when Nurhayati's rich father sponsors her team and provides real uniforms--in Brazil's colors-- Maya is living her dream.

In the midst of her joy, Maya is saddened when her parents separate and her dad leaves for London. But when Nurhayati's father promises a prize for the team's most outstanding star--a trip to London for the championship games--Maya believes that if she can just get to London, she can convince her dad to come back. It's going to take a grand gesture, and Maya makes it in the center of the pitch at Wembley, in the middle of the game between Brazil and England.

They've all stopped playing now. I am still running for the center circle. The pitch is huge.

The crowd is yelling and cheering now. There's nothing soccer spectators like more than a field invasion.

I see Zico out of the corner of my eye. I reach the center circle.

I rip off my yellow jersey. Underneath is a white T-shirt I painted the week before, with big bold letters:


DAD, PLEASE COME HOME!

You win some and you lose some, in Shamini Flint's Ten: A Soccer Story (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2017). And although Maya fails to reunite her family, she learns the old lesson that it's how you play the game that makes the difference. Set in 1986, a world away in time and space from the vibrant world of women's sports today, Flint's partly autobiographical story of a girl whose love for the game changes her own home town is a poignant yet humorous story of school and family life, with characters that ring as true as our own family members, an accurate account of girls' lives in a time just barely past. Maya's gutsy and honest first person narrative hits home with issues girls face even today.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

It's Not the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy! Follow the Trail: Baby Dinosaurs (Take a Peek) by Dawn Strett


CHASE THE BABY DINOSAURS AS THEY STOMP ALONG THE GLITTERY TRAIL.

KEEP YOUR FINGER ON THE LINE. LOOP AROUND, AROUND, AROUND. ZIGZAG...!

Preschoolers are always on the trail in search of dinosaur data; that's why there are so many dino books for the early childhood education crowding the market and shelves. And here comes Dorling Kindersley Press (a.k.a, DK) with another one just made for the preschool trade.

All their favorite dinos are there in all their juvenile charm--a baby Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Styracosaurus, and one newcomer to the lexicon from China, Tuojiangosaurus, a worthy entry with spikes down his backbone and right down to the tip of the big, strong tail he uses for whacking his enemies. But don't worry; there are no frightful dino-fights in Dawn Strett's and Charlotte Millner's little toy and movable board book suitable for toddler and preschooler's yen for more of those prehistoric reptilia.

With die-cut Take-A-Peek peepholes on each page that help young experts predict the next critter on the following page and a sparkly green ribbon to finger-trace the story line, kids will add to their dino vocabulary and gain some facts about each one in series, and kids will likely want to return often to the book to "read" it for themselves. In author Dawn Strett's and artist Charlotte Millner's Follow the Trail: Baby Dinosaurs (Dorling Kindersley, 2017), little dinosaurs are done with just enough detail for the youngest dinosaur devotee and set against DK's trademark white pages in eye-catching spot-art double-page -spread style. There's even a "quiz" at the end which challenges little ones to match the juvenile critters with their adult versions in a sort of junior appendix just right for the preschool dino expert.

Other titles in this engaging series include Follow the Trail Wild Animals and Follow the Trail: Bugs.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

It Could Always Be Worse? No! It Couldn't! I Am Not A Chair! by Ross Burach

ON GIRAFFE'S FIRST DAY IN THE JUNGLE, HE FELT SOMETHING WAS NOT RIGHT.

There was something on his back. Something heavy. Something VERY heavy.

It was Rhino.

All the other animals were sitting on normal  things--logs, rocks, tree stumps, clumps of grass--you know, jungle stuff.

Rabbit looks at Rhino, sitting on Giraffe's back.

"CAN I SHARE THAT CHAIR?" HE ASKED RHINO.

Giraffe looked at his back.

"I AM NOT A CHAIR!" HE YELLED.

Giraffe points out that he has ears, and eyes, a mouth, spots, and... pointing at his new little horns...

... "WHATEVER THESE THINGS ARE!"

But Giraffe gets no respect. What he gets is piled on by each one of the animals in turn, until he collapses. Big Hippo is the straw that breaks the... giraffe's back. Little Hippo tries to fix Big Hippo's "chair," but he puts him together all wrong. Now Giraffe's a roost for jungle birds!

"EEEEEENOUGH! I AM NOT A CHAIR!"

Hope returns as Giraffe spots a human driving by in his jungle Rover. Surely a human knows a giraffe when he sees one!

No, he doesn't. He snatches up Giraffe and plops him down in his house as an exotic TV chair.

Sheesh! Whoever said humans were the smartest species? Giraffe waits for the right moment and makes his escape.

Meanwhile, just down the jungle trail Lion is getting very hungry, and he's not the least bit timid about it.

"ROAR! THE NEXT ANIMAL I SEE WILL BE MY DINNER!"

WHOA! Maybe there are times, Giraffe decides, when looking just like a chair is a good thing, in Ross Burbach's latest, I Am Not a Chair! (Harper, 2017).  Burbach's silly story features growing improbabilities, one on top of the other, so to speak, with an even more nonsensical conclusion that will keep kids falling off their chairs as the giggles keep coming. Absurdity and sight gags reign supreme in Burback's second goofy giraffe tale, the companion to his popular There's a Giraffe in My Soup.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sleep-Away Camp: We Are The Dinosaurs by Laurie Berkner


GOODBYE, ERNESTO! BYE, DEV!

HAVE FUN, LITTLE NESTLINGS!

It seems like only yesterday that they were just hatched!

But now the brave big dinosaurs are wistfully waving goodbye to their little ones, off to the wilds for their first camp experience without their parents. Undaunted, the courageous little chorus sings their song:

OH, WE'RE MARCHING, MARCHING!

WE ARE THE DINOSAURS!

WHADDYA THINK OF THAT?

And it's over the hills and far away with this troop of nestling newbies, off to prove their mettle in the wilds. Dev, Ernesto, Sasha, Olive, and Floyd, decked out with their troop neckerchiefs and knapsacks, head up the country through the prehistoric woods with a brave song.

TROMP, TROMP!

WE MAKE THE EARTH FLAT!

They trek up into the mountains, stopping to munch and crunch when they are in the mood for food. All goes well until, high in the rocky hills, they feel the ground begin to tremble. And then they hear....
RUMBLE!

Boulders rock and roll all around them, and the little scouts decide that maybe they have had enough of the wide open spaces for a while. They reverse course and march, double-time, back toward their home, where their moms and dads anxiously await with big ROARRRS to greet them.

Set to the tune of her popular song, Laurie Berkner's We Are the Dinosaurs (Simon and Schuster, 2017) gives young dinosaur fans a look at the those marching little dinosaurs taking on the trials of the backcountry. There are good times back in prehistory with artist Ben Clayton's clever cartoon characters acting as alter egos for venturing-out young readers, with plenty of opportunities for kids to jump in and sing along. Says School Library Journal, "... a fun choice for preschool storytimes."

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

This is the Home That We Built: This House, Once by Deborah Freeman

This door was once a colossal oak tree.
A tree with a door in its trunk.
These stones were once below, underground, deep, sleeping.
Tucked under a blanket of leaves.

In a way, a house is a slumbering possibility, waiting for the magic of the builder, who sees its boards and door in the tree, its bricks in the clay in the soil, and its foundation in the stones lying within the waiting earth.

From those potentialities the builder assembles the house, put together by human hands that know what to do.

And inside that framework of the house is a lively home, where a child learns how it all came together to provide a cozy, fire-warmed shelter.

This house remains
Drowsy with dreams
That drifted in the door...
That once was an oak.

In the notable author-illustrator Deborah Freeman's This House, Once (Atheneum Press, 2017), she gives us the house as a human product, yet also a natural thing, a product of the tree and the soil and the stones that go into it--a piece of nature and yet a human artifact, but one endowed with the spirit of what went into it.

Freeman's carefully chosen language is lyrical, hinting at the essence of house and home, with lovely images of sleeping stones and walls created, in a parallel creation story, from the clay hidden in the soil as well as with a spirit essence added by those who live there. Freedman's illustrations are both solid and yet veiled in a light wash of gauzy color that emphasizes the symbolism of the home, corporal and yet also imbued with the spirit of those who live within and give it life. Children will feel that symbolism, that spirit expressed in the old saw, "It takes a lot of living to make a house a home." It takes both material structure and family life, and Freedman's artwork provides a good picture of process of construction as well as conveying the immaterial zeitgeist that a lived-in place acquires over time.

Kirkus Reviews nails it, saying, [This book] "... emphasizes shelter but also human use of nature, so the feelings of warmth, safety, and coziness hold the faintest tinge of melancholy and loss. Tender, comforting, and complex."

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Trust Me! You Don't Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman

It's a wishing fountain in the park! A chubby boy in an I LOVE UNICORNS tee-shirt and a silver coin in hand is thinking about what wish to make... when....

"WAIT!

You were going to wish for a unicorn, weren't you?

Wishing for a unicorn is a BIG mistake!

But.... unicorns are sweet! What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty! The former unicorn owner offers to tell all.

Where to begin?

Well, they shed--worse than a pampered Pekinese in a tropical storm! And those rarified pointed horns? Well, unicorns have a yen to keep them sharp by punching holes in the walls and ripping up the furniture!

And as for house training? Forget it! You may at first be pleased to find piles of pink cupcakes in the corners--that is, until you find out what they REALLY are. Yep! You're right. You'll need a shovel.

Oh, and one warning! Unicorns are not solitary pets. They prefer to PARTY HEARTY with their peers. And what happens when they do?

You have unleashed the most destructive force in the universe!

And that's just the beginning of the mythical mayhem in Ame Dyckman's latest, You Don't Want a Unicorn! (Little, Brown and Company, 2017). Yep, it's another of those "Be careful what you wish for" cautionary tales, told in the wry and weary tone of a kid who's been there and done that. Artist Liz Climo's skilled comic hand is evident in her illustrations of the downside of owning a magical creature, with a touch of hyperbole, plenty of sight gags, and pinkish POOFS which leave a trail of dreadful disaster behind. And although unicorns make imperfect pets, they are not the worst!

There's something else that's MUCH WORSE.....!

"STOP! You don't want want one of THOSE! Trust me...."

POOF!

What POOFS up next? Spoiler alert! What's worse may be the subject of Ame Dyckman and Liz Climo's next anti--mythical pet tale. Other curious critter books by this talented two include Dyckman's Wolfie the Bunny or Liz Climo's Rory the Dinosaur Wants a Pet.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Point Well Taken! Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klaasen

This is Triangle.

One day Triangle walked out of his house.

He was going to play a sneaky trick on Square.

Triangle is all about the angular thing. His house is a pyramid. His doorway is triangular, and all the houses around him are the same. But it is eyes right as Triangle trots past all the other pyramidal homes and through the wild wasteland, rife with random rocks with no known form.

They were shapes that had no name.

But at last Triangle's trek brings him to a village of orderly square houses, and the rectilinear residence of his purported friend, Square. With a shifty glance, Triangle stops. He voices a sinister sound!

HISSSSSSSSS!

Square is scared stiff. He imagines the worst.

"Oh, Dear! Oh, Dear! How many snakes are out there?"

Triangle gives himself away with his snarky guffaws. Now Square knows he's been had. The two give each other sidewise glares...., Square's look revealing that he's already planning his revenge.

Triangle returns to his pyramidal home, delighted with the success of his sneaky trick.

Square follows shortly after. He himself has a sneaky prank to play. It seems he knows Triangle's worst phobia, too. He wedges himself square in the triangular door of Triangle's house.

"It's too dark!" cries Triangle. "You are blocking my light!!

It is Triangle's turn to be terrified. He's stonewalled. Square can't resist gloating.

"You see, Triangle, this was my plan all along."

But was it? Doubtful, since Square is seemingly stuck fast in Triangle's door. It's a standoff, all right, with both of the battling buddies nonplussed, apparently hoist by their own petards, in Mac Barnett's and Jon Klaasen's newest, er, blockbuster collaboration, Triangle (Candlewick Press, 2017). It seems as if Triangle and Square will have plenty of time to resolve their personal problems, if not their phobias, especially since this title is the first of a trilogy planned by these picture book partners with the creative chops to carry off their minimally developed characters in further fabular encounters.

Mac Barnett's spare and wry text, done in understated deadpan narration, is perfectly paired with Klaasen's minimalist but somehow monumental figures. The eyes have it with Klassen's work, as he uses only the eyes of his characters to tell the story visually, just as he did with such fine effect in his notable We Found a Hat. What you get with this combo is an ironical and masterful example of the modern picture book from the winning pair who gave us the Caldecott Honor Books Extra Yarn and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Irma S and James H Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature (Awards)). (see reviews here and here). Klaasen resurrects his color palette and the simulated spray-patterned earth tones from the latter to good effect in this new one, and altogether this creative pair has again produced a small masterpiece, well vetted with starred reviews all around from the critics.

Good for shape-naming preschoolers and easy enough for emergent readers, this one has that sophisticated touch of irony to charm much older readers as well. Bravissimo, boys! Carry on!

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

How Did This Happen? Uh, Oh, Bunny! by Pamela Kennedy

BUNNY COLORED ON THE WALL.

UH-OH, BUNNY!

Bunny also knocked over Mama's plant. Broken pottery, plant, and potting soil were everywhere. Uh-oh!

Bunny got excited about seeing what was on the next page of his book and ripped it quite out of the book. UH-OH!

Little ones often get caught up in the moment and do things that later look like a big mistake. Learning to stop and think first is not easy, especially for little bunnies who are excited about the possibilities of everything.

That is when Mama steps in to find out who did it.

Luckily, Little Bunny confesses to the truth of his deeds, and his mother praises him for owning up. Next time, perhaps he'll stop and think first.

Pamela Kennerly's little board book Uh-Oh, Bunny (Worthy Kids/Ideals, 2017) follows her adorable Bunny as he gets himself into some childish transgressions.  Walls look just perfect for drawing and scribbling, but they are costly messes that Mama has to fix. Broken plants can't always be saved, and a book missing a page can be sad, but Mama shows her little one that she appreciates his confessions and hopes he'll do better in the future. Clare Key's bunny tot is lovable, even when caught in the act of drawing himself on the wall, and kids will no doubt recall times--long ago, of course, back when they were really little-- when they did thoughtless things. This simple and charming book offers a moment for thinking about the things we do!

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Peep-A-Boo! Little Chick Finger Puppet Book

WITH A CRACK, LITTLE CHICK HATCHES OUT OF HIS EGG.

Chick pops out of the shell, flaps his little wings, shakes his tail feathers, and is ready for action.

Hopping from the henhouse to the barnyard, he finds some snacks and is ready to find some friends. Alone is no fun for a baby chick!

But suddenly he spies two eggs. What are they doing there?

And then there's a CRACK, and then another.

He hears a sound. TWO SOUNDS!

PEEP!

And just like that, Little Chick has a sister. And then a brother!

Now three little chicks are ready to play, in Chronicle Books' Little Chick: Finger Puppet Book (Little Finger Puppet Board Books) (Chronicle Books, 2017). With an adorable fuzzy chick finger puppet in a peep hole on each page, little fingers (and bigger ones, too) can make this main character interract with what is going on on every page.  Along with its similarly lovable and best-selling  companion book, Little Bunny: Finger Puppet Book (Little Finger Puppet Board Books), these two make irresistible additions to the Easter basket, probably beating out that chocolate rabbit.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Egg-stra! Egg-stra!: EGG by Kevin Henkes

Four eggs.

Pink, blue, yellow.... and green.

Three eggs begin to crack--first on one side, and then on the other. The pink one is the first to shatter.

surprise!

The next three cracked eggs take their time, but one by one, a yellow bird follows, and then the blue egg hatches, wearing a chip of shell for a cap. Then each tries their wings and flies away.

goodbye!

The green egg remains. Clearly, this egg is not all it's cracked up to be.

The three little birds return to wait, and wait, and wait, watching over their late mate. They take a listen for activity inside. At last they go proactive. They peck and peck and peck with increasing power.

Cracks appear. and then...

surprise!

Climbing out of the green shell is a little alligator. The three birds react. Yipes! Fly away! Fly away!

The little reptilian is left all by himself--all on his lonesome and feeling bad.

But the three birds are as curious as they are afraid. They fly back to check out the new guy. The strange hatchling seems harmless, so....

One by one, they venture closer, and one by one they land on his bumpy green back. He heads for the pond, and they hang on, going for a gator-ride on the quiet waters, seemingly becoming friends as the sinking sun morphs into an egg-shaped ovoid and slides low over the landscape.

Is this where the story ends? Or is there more to tell--perhaps from the reader?

Two things are true of Kevin Henkes' recent picture books: they are lovely to look at and they leave the reader wondering...., and as in his latest, Egg (Greenwillow Books, 2017), wondering what egg-zactly what happened here?

His pastel-paletted text and characters tell a sweet story of unlikely friendship, but most of Henkes' illustrations are placed within grids with four and then sixteen cells, as the Newbery and Caldecott-award winning author-illustrator keeps coming up with a different form of graphic narration. This one is no exception. Is he playing with the graphic contrast of curves and gridded squares? Is he pushing a premise that friendship can't be contained? Or both?

As in his Waiting and When Spring Comes, (see reviews here and here), Kevin Henkes captures attention with irresistible images and builds tension while making the reader tell the story in his or her own way. Here, Henkes' pages are innately lovely to look at, with images framed within a curved brown-ish frame, and arranged in almost wordless storytelling that is at a far remove from the classic spring-cum-Easter tale, one that leaves youngsters asking "what?" and "what if?" "Another stunner from Henkes, who is able to evoke so much with few words and such seemingly simple illustrations," says Kirkus. in a starred review. "Gorgeous and thought-provoking."

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