Monday, July 31, 2017

Winning, Winning, Winning! Pig the (Pug) Winner by Aaron Blabey

Yes, Pig was a winner.
He just had to win.
And nothing would stop him.
Oh, where to begin?

You can't win 'em all, says the old saw? "Win some, lose some, they say?

Not in Pug's book!

Believe it or not,
He was quite hard to beat.
And the reason was simple...
Yes, Pug was a cheat.

Pig the Pug is not an only dog. His housemate is a gentle dachshund named Trevor, a long-suffering pooch in more ways than one. Pug competes over everything--toys and treats and time on lap--and in a race, he's not above planting a well-placed hind foot in the face of his competitor. He's worse than a sore loser; in his mind he never loses. And if he is not declared the winner, he pitches a tantrum until the real winner gets tired of the fit and hands over the prize. Of course, Pug wastes no time in starting to boast he's the real winner again. Winning is not the best thing; it's the only thing!

Poor Trevor tries to suggest that they can play just for fun, but Pig has only one answer:


And one day even eating becomes an Olympic event.

When their dishes are filled with their doggy dinners, Trevor begins to eat daintily, but Pig wolfs his food, determined to be the first to finish.

He gobbles his kibble!

Pig swallows his sausages whole hog without bothering to savor a morsel, and unfortunately he bites off more than he can chew.

He swallows his whole bowl!

It's little Trevor to the rescue with the dachshund version of the Heimlich Maneuver. Just as he's turning blue, Pig gasps and begins to breathe again.

Has Pig the Pug learned his lesson? Will he finally lose his obsession with winning? Young readers will hope not after laughing their way through Aaron Blabey's Pig the Winner (Pig the Pug) (Scholastic Books, 2017). Pig the Pug is the kind of protagonist we love to hate, and readers will be rooting to read Trevor's next triumph. Author-illustrator Aaron Blabey's Pig is definitely a winner in the picture book trade, beginning with his recent Pig the Pug (see review here), and there are two more in this series waiting in the wings in Australia in which young American readers can anticipate the egotistical Pig's getting another jolly comeuppance. Says Kirkus Reviews, "The goggle-eyed cartoon illustrations are fun, funny, and appealingly grotesque in their exaggerated goofiness, and they are a good match for the rhyming text."

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Outsider:: Confessions from the Principal's Kid by Robin Mellom

To be clear, I have no desire to be at the top of the School Coolness Pyramid--if that even exists. I just want to be part of something.

Almost everyone avoids me now like I'm some sort of rat--who tells on people and uses her connections to get them in trouble. (See previous info about my mother being the principal.)

It's complicated. Allie West's mom's promotion from regular teacher to principal just happens to coincide with the ITCP--the Intense Trading Card Phase. a craze for swapping Mammal-Morph cards, led by chief nerd-boy Graham Parker, whose hand-drawn super-gecko El Guapo cards become the hottest item at recess. The rivalry's squabbles spill over into the classroom; Allie's mom has to ban the cards from the school; and when one is found in Allie's desk, she inexplicably blurts out that it belongs to her best friend, Chloe Alvarez. Allie becomes tattletale-non-grata all over the school, and poor Graham goes from superstar to the butt of everyone's jokes, especially the jibes of bully-in-chief Joel Webster. Graham is an easy target, the weird kid who carries his grandfather's clarinet everywhere he goes and apologizes to poles when he walks into them.

Now Allie West finds herself the chief Outsider. Her only friends are the custodian Frances, who lets her use the super floor polisher to secretly remove the spitballs Joel launches daily at Graham, Miss Jean, the cafeteria manager who puts her in charge of spagetti inventory, and the Afters, a motley group of teachers' kids who have to stay late after school--their leader, fourth-grader Lexa, "born with a clipboard in her hand," fifth-grade outcasts Allie and Graham, and second-grader Maddie Vicario--who meet undercover daily to play Eavesdropping Bingo and come up with Acts of Random Awesomesauce for the staff. It's definitely a group with inside information, the ones who know all the shortcuts around the school and where the snack foods are kept in each classroom.

Confession: I also know where Frances stores the extra toilet paper, and I'm embarrassed that I'm a little proud of that.

Allie's one chance to re-friend Chloe and her friends is to make the Pentagon Math Team, hoping to spend enough time with Chloe to apologize and restore their friendship. Unexpectedly, she's paired with Chloe on a project and their time together goes well. When Chloe invites her to her birthday party, Allie feels like her days as outsider are over. But then she overhears the other guests talking about her.

"So embarrassing for her," Andrea was saying. "Chloe was so bummed she had to partner with her and invite her over to work on the project."

"Does Chloe even like her?" Sophie asked.

"Who knows? I'm sure Allie's mom called to get her invited to this party, too."

I back away slowly and slip out the front door.

I'm alone. Being an insider at school--knowing the ins and outs--it all makes me an outsider.

hate being the principal's kid.

Fifth grade is complicated. Allie's relations with her parents and the kids at school are so hard to unravel. How can things go so wrong when everyone seems to be trying to do the right thing?

There comes a time when relationships stop being a smooth grassy playground and start being a playing field full of stumbling blocks, as Allie West discovers in Robin Mellom's forthcoming Confessions from the Principal's Kid (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).

Mellom's protagonist is likable, smart, funny, honest, and yet lonely, as she tries to navigate the sudden changes in her life. Sooner or later--perhaps much later--most people find themselves somehow on the outside, looking in. Allie discovers who her real best friend is--Graham, who stopped being her friend during the school day to spare her from taking the treatment that fell on him, and from there she realizes that even complicated things make sense when seen from the other side.

Making new friends is sometimes a struggle, but it's also important to leave no one behind, she learns. Using her own experience as a principal's kid and an After herself in this strong character-driven story, Mellom's Allie helps middle readers vicariously experience some of those tangled webs we mortals weave along the way.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Relatively Speaking: General Relativity for Babies by Chris Ferrie


Chris Ferrie's General Relativity for Babies (Baby University) (Sourcebooks, 2016) begins this effort to explain Einstein's famous theory with the simplest of concepts, a ball, and then at warp speed goes straight to the hard stuff.


Whizzing right by the old distinction between weight and mass, author Ferrie goes right on to show how mass affects space.



The erudite author, who holds a degree in mathematical physics and a postdoctoral fellowship at The University of Sydney, goes on to show how mass distorts space by using a flat page with a grid to show how mass can curve space, and shows how how shrinking a large mass may turn it into a black hole so dense that even light cannot escape it, and he goes on to illustrate the center of a black hole--the singularity and picture the gravitational waves that result from the convergence of two black holes.

Despite its title, the best-selling General Relativity for Babies (Baby University) is not exactly for infants, but preschoolers and elementary readers can get a good start on the vocabulary and a taste of the concepts of Einstein's theory of general relativity, appealingly illustrated by the author in simple line drawings with two colors, basic black and red, and Ferrie makes them simple and straightforward in proper board book style. School Library Journal calls this one "a stealth instruction for older students and caregivers who are a bit hazy on the basics of quantum and Newtonian physics."

Other books in the series include Quantum Physics for Babies (Baby University) Quantum Physics for Babies (Baby University), and Newtonian Physics for Babies (Baby University).

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Friday, July 28, 2017

The Music of the Night: The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers

William looked out his window to find a commotion on the street.

Grimloch Street is a bit grim. The old houses are gray and run- down, and the townspeople in sight seem downcast, too, as at twilight William sketches an owl in the dirt with a stick. But when William leaves his drawing and goes up to his bedroom to sleep, something seems to happen overnight.

William hastily pulls on some clothes and dashes down to the street where he sees...

A tree shaped like an owl.

The wise old owl had appeared overnight as if by magic.

William is mystified by the sudden manifestation of the owl tree and determines to solve the mystery. For the next three mornings, he sees a figure he remembers --an old mustached man in a Derby hat, carrying a long ladder. William finally follows the shadowy figure and watches as the clandestine gardener puts up his ladder and climbs up with his shears to shape bushes and trees into topiaries of animals of all kinds.

His neighborhood is nightly transformed, especially Grimloch Park, which blooms with fantastical figures--rabbits, dragons, and cats. Not surprisingly, the town is spruced up by its residents to fit its fancy trees.

And then one night, as William shadows the night gardener, he turns and speaks to him.

"There are so many trees in this park. I could use a little help."

Under the light of the moon they worked deep into the night.

And one morning William awakes to find the old man gone, but beside himself a gift--the gardener's shears. Now William is the Gardener, in the Fan Brothers' The Night Gardener (Simon and Schuster, 2017). Executing in delicious pen-and-ink retro-styled illustrations, cross-hatched and detailed drawings of tall, frame houses and fantastical leafy creatures and varied townspeople, done in soft muted tertiary colors that invite scrutiny of every page, the artist transitions the town through the seasons. School Library Journal likens the Fans' illustrations to the style of a "more cheerful Edward Gorey," while the New York Times Book Review places the Fans's art as "halfway between traditional old engravings and the looser lines of more modern artists, and describe their "lovely, luminous effect." The Fans' fantastical topiary tale has a beneficent magical mojo working that portrays the mythic power of artistry to transform its world.

For more "Music of the Night," share this tale with Lizi Boyd's noted Flashlight and Mortecai Gerstein's lovely The Night World. (see review here).

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

When You Gotta Crow, You Gotta Crow! The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy

There was once a village what the streets rang with song from morn till night.

Dogs barked, engines hummed, fountains warbled, and everyone sang in the shower.

The little village of La Paz was a happy place, but it was noisy.

Then a cranky, dyspeptic curmudgeon named Don Pepe was elected Mayor of La Paz on a platform which banned singing and everything else that made noise. At first the villagers enjoyed the peace and quiet. Their sleep was deep and undisturbed. But in the way of some rulers, Don Pepe grew more dictatorial and his law became more and more draconian.

In fact, it progressively became more and more ridiculous.



The town was quiet as a tomb.

But there is one scofflaw who insists on his rights. The town's chief rooster refuses to follow the new law. He climbed into a big tree and sang at daybreak outside the Mayor's bedroom window.


The rebel rooster pleads his case that the tree is so lovely that he is forced to sing from it. He is promptly incarcerated, and Don Pepe has the magnificent tree chopped down.




One by one, Don Pepe deprives the rooster of his reasons for song. He takes away his family. He takes away his freedom by isolating him in a cage. He deprives him of his corn. He covers his cage so that he cannot sing to the rising sun.



In her latest, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! (Scholastic Press, 2017), Carmen Agra Deedy offers a little parable set in folktale format which goes beyond the old saw about there being such a thing as too much of a good thing, standing up for the right of everyone to sing his own song. Deedy is a storyteller who knows how to build suspense and humor simultaneously as the clever rooster takes charge and turns the tables on the despotic Don Pepe and rouses the populace to take back their songs. The mixed media artwork of Eugene Yelchin matches Deedy's narration with subtle folk-style illustrations, spearing the dyspeptic Don Pepe in comic caricature as he progressively loses his cool with the quixotic rooster. This is a clever tale which can be read on several levels, part aesthetic, part patriotic.

Carmen Agra Deedy is also the author of The Library Dragon, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, Yellow Star, the: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, and 14 Cows for America.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Serial Sleepover! Go Sleep in Your Own Bed! by Candace Fleming



Inside the farmhouse a girl snuggles under her quilt, sleepily nodding over her book under the yellow light of her bedside lamp. Outside her window the sky is deep blue, and the first stars are winking on.

Is everyone in bed? Not quite.

Pig is waddley-slogging toward his lovely mucky sty, only to find something unexpected.

Cow is cozily curled up inside, a contented smile on her face.




Reluctantly, Cow mooooves, her mucky hooves clomping to the barn where she knells down into her own stall.


Cow finds a chicken already roosting in her stall and grumpily gives Hen her walking papers!


Unhappily, Hen flaps off to settle her feathers down in the chicken coop. But for some reason, Hen doesn't quite fit. Someone else is snoozing in her straw. It's Horse! Oh, Fuss and Feathers! Squawking and pecking, Hen heads Horse out the door and toward the barn.

Horse plods off to the stable, yawning drowsily. But he finds Sheep snoozing in his spot, and orders her to schlep herself off to the sheep pen, where Sheep finds Dog fast asleep, snoring away in her spot with the flock.


Sheep boots Dog out. Dog pads dejectedly off toward the kennel, but it seems another sleeper has already bedded down in his doghouse.


Drat! It's the old story of musical beds, and now Cat seems to be the odd one out as he sadly tiptoes to the darkened doorstep. But inside the farmhouse, there is someone who is looking for a furry bedfellow to share her cozy quilted bed.


Candace Fleming's latest, Go Sleep in Your Own Bed (Shwartz and Wade, 2017), is a cumulative critter story with a "Go sleep in your own bed" refrain that encourages youngsters to chime in, one that has the feel of a homey folk story. Fleming adds clever dialog that makes for skilled wordplay with alliteration and puns in the inventive expletives of the would-be sleepers.

Meanwhile, in her comfy, countrified illustrations reminiscent of Betsy Lewin's celebrated artwork in Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (A Click, Clack Book), artist Lori Nichols deftly uses a nighttime palette to add a healthy helping of humor with her comic critters misappropriating each other's beds and brings the story to a satisfying full circle with everyone right where they ought to be--and with girl and cat asleep together under the light of the now-risen moon at her window. A sweetly soothing ending makes for a classic addition to the bedtime library.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Beach Fun: Llama Llama Sand & Sea by Anna Dewdney

It's high summer--the time that parents and kids go down to the sea in flip-flops and swimsuits.



Mama has hopes of reading her book under the beach umbrella.

Little Llama wants to build a BIG sand castle.

He wants to make BIG splashes in the water.

But he gets a surprise when he finds out he shares the sea with fish and crabs and seashells with live things inside!

Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama Sand and Sun (Grossett And Dunlap) has touch-and-feel pages, with even sunglasses for Little Llama that reflect the little reader. The fish are scaly and the water splashes are sparkly, the crabs are--crabby and the sand is--scratchy, all described in Dewdney's familiar couplets and depicted in her charming illustrations in this little board book that shows so much fun in the sun. A jolly and charming book for kids about to have their first beach visit!

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Point A to Point B: Transportation: How People Get Around by Gail Gibbons

Transportation is what people use to get around. They choose what works best to get from place to place.

From heels to wheels and wings, humans have always been on the move from here to there. But there are probably more ways these days than ever.

Still Gail Gibbons, the queen of concept books, gamely gives her best try to categorize and describe all the many ways people change places.

In her latest, Transportation (Holiday House, 2017), author Gibbons divides her task into a veritable taxonomy of transportation--Cars and Vehicles, Trains, Boats, and Aircraft.

Within each class, artist Gibbons offers clear blackline illustrations of various vehicles, mostly shown in profile for easy identification. Gibbons' straightforward line drawings are both simple and detailed, making distinctions, for example, between automotive vans and SUVs, and even distinguishing between compact cars, coupes, middle-sized sedans, hatchbacks, station wagons, luxury sedans, and stretch limousines.

Riding the rails, Gibbons describes the variety--subway trains, elevated trains, commuter trains, freight trains, passenger trains and high speed bullet trains. As for water transportation, there are canoes and kayaks, sloops and submarines, water taxis, cruise ships, rowboats, ferries, and ocean liners, and her aircraft include single-engine airplanes, freight carriers, passenger airplanes--from puddle-jumpers to transoceanic airliners--and even vehicles that travel to the border of outer space at the International Space Station.

A non-fiction book that provides both clear visuals and vocabulary-building text, this book is a good-sized, go-to compendium for motorhead fans to browse and for those early childhood education class units on transportation.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

X Marks the Spot: Pete the Cat and the Treasure Map by James Dean



Pete is all set to play pirate. His rigging is snapping in the breeze, and he's got his jolly crew of swabbies aboard. He's got the hat and the hook.

What else does a privateer need to take to the sea?

A pirate needs a plan. Then Pete spots a bird flying straight for a perch on the helm.


Hurray! Pete's ship sets sail with its Jolly Roger aloft for a valiant voyage. YO HO HO AND--

Ahoy! Avast, mateys! What's that ahead?


Does Captain Pete rally the crew to grab their cutlasses? Does he order them to fire their cannons at the creature?

Nope! Pete pulls out his guitar and starts rockin' to the monster's beat, in James Dean's Pete the Cat and the Treasure Map (Harper Festival, 2017).

No sea monster could resist Pete's buccaneer beat, in Dean's latest tall tale of Pete the Cat which ends, not in a battle, but in beach music. Youngsters may be inspired to make up their own pirate game after this inexpensive paperback provides the summertime fantasy. And--stickers are included!

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Here We Go A-Wandering: Garcia and Collette Go Exploring by Hannah Barnaby



It's a version of the old family brouhaha about where to go on vacation.

Best buddies Garcia and Colette both crave exploration of exotic spaces, but they simply can't agree on where to go and how to get there. Garcia opts for a visit to comets and stars, and Colette dreams of deep sea sights, and ne'er the twain shall meet.

Separately the two would-be roamers collect piles of what might look like junk to the uninitiated and begin to build their exploratory vehicles. Garcia assembles his spacecraft, and Colette constructs her submarine.

Garcia's rocket was snazzy and silvery, made of metal and bolts, with a round window on the side.

Colette's sub was gold and glorious, made of metal and bolts, with a square window on the front.

Garcia blasts off and Colette sinks into the sea, with both of their designs functioning as planned.

Garcia is immediately beguiled by the glorious glow of meteors and stars. But he notices that there is a lot of blackness out there, too.

"Space is quiet," he wrote in his notebook.

Colette joyfully floats over coral reefs with their exotic fish and strange creatures like shine like lanterns. Still, there is an awful lot of deep dark outside her little window.

"The sea is quiet," she wrote.

Deep space and the deep sea are both too quiet. It's time to reconsider this exploration thing.

Alone is no fun is the familiar premise of Hannah Barnaby's Garcia  and Colette Go Exploring (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2017), as her charming little rabbit and cute little fox conclude, as they recalibrate their ventures to allow them to explore an intriguing place that suits them both. That things are better when you do them together is a popular storybook theme, and author Barnaby's narration makes good use of parallelism as her two little travelers separately discover that their solo voyages into the unknown satisfy everything but the need for someone to share it with. Artist Andrew Joiner's detailed illustrations catch the energy of kids venturing out in the unknown in their own creative contraptions with plenty of verve and elan. Says Kirkus in their starred review, "Telling one story well is enough of a challenge, but this book perfectly balances two stories and the characters within them, adding up to more than the sum."

Share this one with Camille Andros' recent and similarly themed Charlotte the Scientist Is Squished (see review here.)


Friday, July 21, 2017

Say Goodnight, Albert: Goodnight, Lab (A Scientific Parody) by Chris Ferrie



No picture book has been more beloved--and more parodied--than Margaret Wise Brown's perennial best-seller, Goodnight Moon, with its familiar green cover and irregular verse form that has chronicled the steps in bedtime preparation and persuasion for generations of tykes. Indeed, the cover layout is so iconic that the subtitle A Scientific Parody is hardly necessary on Chris Ferrie's latest tot science title, Goodnight Lab: A Scientific Parody (Baby University) (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky Books, 2017).

Chris Ferrie, a writer devoted to introducing the vocabulary and concepts of science to the nursery school set, faithfully parallels the narration of Margaret Wise Brown's bedtime story. With the dour image of Albert Einstein looking down from the wall, we bid goodnight to both the thermometer and the spectronomer and selected scientific apparatus and paraphernalia and even the clutter of labwork, and Ferrie even includes that bugaboo of academics everywhere:



In his several Baby University board books, such as his amazingly top-selling Quantum Physics for Babies (Baby University), Ferrie avoids the chicken-and-egg question by introducing scientific vocabulary and complex concepts to the very young simultaneously, believing that naming big ideas goes right along with early understanding of scientific principles.

In this clever parody, however, author-illustrator Ferrie offers no theories, just a comic take-off on an old bedtime standby, tossing in items such as lab coats, the ubiquitous sticky notes, lab notebooks, and ammeters and voltmeters along the way. This little board book also offers some chuckles for grownups, while simultaneously stimulating more questions than yawns--which was likely the author's plan all along.

For youngsters who love wordplay as well as lab paraphernalia, pair this one with Michael Rex's killer-diller knockoff, Goodnight Goon: a Petrifying Parody, (read review here) Rex's equally punny Runaway Mummy: a Petrifying Parody, or Michael Teitelbaum's spoof of Eric Carle's classic caterpillar tale, The Very Hungry Zombie: A Parody.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movin' with the Animals! Zen Zoo: A Yoga Story for Kids by Kristen Fischer


Sure! Animals have all the good moves, so once you've done downward dog, you're ready to go a little wild with your yoga. So little Lyla heads for the zoo.

With her yoga girl pants on, Lyla decides to unroll her mat first in front of a balancing bear.


And while Lyla is down on all fours, it's easy to slip into a slide like the slithering snakes. Then she moves on to prowl like three lions, and then bends like a quartet of kneeling camels.

Like six crocs, Lyla gets down on her tummy, and when dolphins arch through their jumps, she raises her bottom with her arms out flat--like that!

The gorillas are next, screeching and reaching, but Lyla bends way down to grab her heels and laughs at them. Then Lyla poses with the languid leopards and ends her routine leaping and hopping without stopping with ten frogs in the amphibian enclosure.

Kristen Fischer's just published Zoo Zen: A Yoga Story for Kids (Sounds True, 2017) counts the zoo critters up while leading her little yoga buff through ten poses, loosely modified to match the moves of familiar zoo dwellers. Fischer's choice of zoo animals as pro tem yoga masters give an added incentive to young yoga beginners, and Susi Schaefer's sophisticated palette and exotic collage illustrations make this book delightfully eye-catching to young yoga novices. Says Publishers Weekly, "Parents seeking to introduce yoga to their children should find this an engaging, easy-to-follow resource."

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Meet Me at the Fair!" Fairy Floss: The Sweet Story of Cotton Candy by Ann Ingalls

"Meet me in St. Louis, Louie,"
Meet me at the Fair!
Don't tell me the lights are shining
Anywhere but there!"

In 1904 St. Louis, Missouri, was the place to be, the celebrated site of the World's Fair. The Paris World's Fair had its Eiffel Tower, the 1893 Chicago Exposition had its famous Ferris Wheel--

And St. Louis had--ELECTRICITY!

Sure, the Chicago Fair had its signature Ferris wheel lighted by thousands of bulbs, but in St. Louis electricity was king. It was everywhere! The Exposition Hall was filled with brand-new appliances--electric fans, waffle makers, irons, percolators, toasters and typewriters, even washing machines. There was a fantastic cascade of water into a lake, powered by electric pumps, an ice skating rink in July, and lots and lots of food vendors providing new foods prepared with new electrical inventions.

Most people know that ice cream cones were the hit new food at the Fair, but few know the story of John Wharton and William Morrison's Fairy Floss machine which electrically heated sugar syrup and spun it out into a bowl in the form of what Americans now call "cotton candy."

John Wharton, a candy maker, stood over a gas-fired stove; he turned the crank on a candy-making machine over and over.

"Making spun sugar sure is hard work," said little Lillie.

"It's almost done," said John. "As the little barrel spins faster and faster, melted sugar passes through tiny openings and into the catching bowl. It cools and forms a candy thread.

If you go to the World's Fair, you will see me and my dentist friend and our electric candy machine."

And of course Lillie, her Aunt Mae, and millions of others flock to the St. Louis World's Fair, where Wharton's "fairy floss" is a big hit, along with that other fortuitous new food fancy, the ice cream cone, which also found its first mass market there. Now cotton candy (which has many names such as candy wool and candy floss) is available at every fair, from small county fairs to every World's Fair since, as well as theme parks everywhere.

Ann Ingalls' Fairy Floss: The Sweet Story of Cotton Candy (Little Bee Books, 2017) takes young readers back where they can see the sights of dazzling new inventions through the amazed eyes of Lillie and Auntie Mae. Artist Migy Blanco captures the colorful bustling spirit of turn-of-the-century St. Louis, in two-page spreads where women wear billowing long skirts and huge hats and men sport dapper bowties and bowlers and children scream in mock terror as they ride the exciting new electrical rides on the midway, an event which gave us a new word to describe the fabulous goings-on at the 1904 World's Fair--

It was a Lallopalooza!

For another account of a lallopalooza of a ground-breaking fair, pair this one with Kathryn Gibbs Davis' Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (see review here).

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Seven Crows For a Secret, Not To Be Told: One For Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

At the door to my room, Elsie stopped and stared."This is all yours? Oh, Annie, you are so lucky."

Elsie tried out the rocking chair Father had made for me. She even opened the doors to the tall wardrobe and flipped through my skirts and dress and blouses. Finally she sat down on my bed and gave a little bounce. "You are my best friend. What good times we'll have playing here." I tried to smile. Elsie picked up Edward Bear and squeezed his tummy to make him growl. "What makes that noise?" She poked Edward's belly harder. "We should cut him open and find out. He's just a stuffed animal. Old and ugly and smelly."

"Give him to me," I cried. "I've had him since I was a baby. I'd never hurt him.""

It is 1918, and shy, only child Annie has just started sixth grade in a new school in a new town and longs to be accepted by the circle of girls led by the bold, red-haired Rosie, but before their first recess, Elsie grabs her hand and telling her how mean the other girls are, forces her to play only with her. And after school, uninvited she follows Annie home. Annie's mother kindly invites her to stay for dinner, but Annie finds it impossible to like Elsie, overweight, with horribly crooked teeth, and seeming to hate everyone--the teacher, the other students, even her stepmother and father whom she claims beat her and lock her in her room. Annie tries to be polite, but there is something frightening about Elsie that makes her wish she would stay away.

Then Elsie is absent from school for several days, and Annie is accepted by Rosie and the others into their group. Rosie is daring and mischievous and invents wonderful ideas for after-school adventures. And when the Spanish flu strikes their town, and black wreaths appear on the doors of many houses, Rosie has the most audacious idea ever--that the girls join the mourners and follow them to help themselves to the refreshments for the wake. Annie is unwilling, but follows Rosie for fear of losing her friends, and Rosie thinks nothing of studying the obituaries in the newspaper to prepare to make conversation at the wakes.

Then, on one cold dark afternoon, the girls come upon Elsie, wearing a flue mask, all alone on a swing, and Rosie leads the girls in teasing her. They circle around her, singing,

I had a little bird,
And its name was Enza.
I opened up the window,
And in flew Enza.

Annie feels ashamed as Elsie cries and tries to escape from the circle, but led by Rosie, the girls chase her partway home.

Then several days later, crashing another wake, the girls get a shock.

"Come in and say goodbye to her," the woman at the door said.

All five of us arrived at the coffin at the same moment. We all gasped, even Rosie, and backed away. It was Elsie. Rosie's face was so pale every freckle stood out. "We just saw her a few days ago," she whispered.

Sobered by the thought that they somehow might have contributed to Elsie's death, the girls attend no more wakes. Annie has constant nightmares about Elsie, but with the end of the war, everyone's spirits begin to rise, and with school still canceled, the girls spend their days outside in snowball fights and sledding. Then, near twilight one night, Rosie dares them all to take their sleds to the big hill inside the cemetery. The paths are crooked and icy, and Annie crashes into a monument adorned with an angel. When she comes back to consciousness, she sees that it is Elsie's tombstone, and inside her aching head she hears Elsie's voice. And then Elsie appears as well.

Elsie floated above the snow. She wore the same pale blue silk dress she'd worn when I last saw her lying in her coffin.

"Why don't you say hello? Now that I'm dead, I mean to have the friend I wanted--you, Annie," she whispers.

Elsie haunts Annie's sleeping and waking moments and begins to possess her mind, making her say and do things she doesn't want to do until her "precarious state of mind" forces her parents to place Annie in a convalescent home, in Mary Downing Hahn's moving story, One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). Inspired by her own mother's memories of the influenza song and many children's funeral wakes from her childhood days, Hahn places this story in the days of the Spanish flu epidemic, long-past time which sets the scene for a memorable ghost tale. But this one is no horror story, meant only to spark shivers and keep pages turning. Hahn's ability to blend evil and good in her stories is inimitable, here pitting the angry but pitiable spirit of Elsie against the essential goodness of Mrs. Jameson, a frail elderly patient at the home who, as she lies dying, promises to free Annie by leading Elsie's restless ghost to reunite with the spirit of her lost mother.

Buffered by the author's empathy for all her characters and her well-drawn apparitions, Hahn's novels leave her readers with a deepened understanding of human nature in which ghosts finally find peace, leaving the reader with an affirmation of life.

Hahn's other noted ghost tales include Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story, , a classic which was made into a feature-length movie, Time for Andrew: A Ghost Story,  The Old Willis Place, and Stepping on the Cracks, all great for middle readers on those long summer afternoons and dark and stormy summer nights.

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