Thursday, August 31, 2017

School Days: Clark the Shark and the Big Book Report by Bruce Hale

"Tomorrow is Book Report Day!" said Mrs. Inkydink. "Is everybody ready?"

Only a few flippers went up.

Many of Clark the Shark's classmates are intimidated by having to speak in front of the whole group. Benny Blowfish admits he's nervous, and Ella Jellyfish confesses that she's scared, too. Only Clark the Shark seems unafraid.

Mrs. Inkydink bucks up their courage with a pep talk.

"Be bold. Be smart. Speak from the heart!"

"I can't wait," says Clark, with a toothy grin.

The looks on the faces of his classmates seem to say that's easier said than done. But Clark is a sharp student (in more ways than one), and he's sure he's got this book report thing under control.

He really likes his book, The Frog Prince. At home he creates what he thinks is a killer poster, advertising the book. He practices speaking in front of his family, and takes their advice to heart.

The next day he heads off to school, sure that his book report will be the best ever.

His best friend, Joey Mackerel, is not so confident.

"Aren't you nervous about talking in front of the class?" he asks.

"I know my book like the back of my flipper," boasts Clark.

Sure that his book report will be perfect, the self-confident Clark, waves his fin high in the air to go first. He even warms up his cold-blooded audience with a scale-tickling riddle:

"What do Frog Princes eat with their hamburgers?


But when Clark opens his jaws to launch into his actual report, his mind goes completely blank.

It's a classic case of stage fright for Clark the Shark, in Bruce Hale's beginning reader, Clark the Shark and the Big Book Report (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper, 2017), as the go-getter Clark learns a needed lesson about modesty, along with a lesson for the whole class in self-confidence. Bruce Hale's character, Clark the Shark, is a good example even when he's being a bad example for his classmates by learning to curb his braggadocio, paving the way for Joey, Ella, Benny, and the other Nervous Jellies in the class to take their turns courageously. Hale's illustrator, Guy Frances, comes through as usual with comic portrayals of his sub-marine students in this message to beginning readers.

"Cheerful, expressive illustrations provide contextual clues as they depict a classroom of friendly, supportive students. VERDICT A winning addition to the series," says School Library Journal.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Banking Bunny: Earn It! A MoneyBunny Book by Cinders McLeod



Well, who wouldn't? To young Bunnie, all she needs is for Mom to drive her to the concert hall.

But Mom points out that becoming a rich and famous singer is not easy and it doesn't happen overnight. For starters, she needs to be a good singer, and that takes special voice lessons and--practice, practice, practice. Bun listens to Mom.


But how does a bunny get some money?

Bunnies need money! And as Bun learns, she's going to have to earn it! She readily takes on extra garden chores and brings in more carrots. Bun envisages herself clutching a cash crop of carrots, counting up cartons of carrots. She sees herself making recordings and pulling in even more carrots in royalties!

And she will have earned it all, in Cinders McLeod's just-published Earn It! (Random House, 2017). English artist Cinders McLeod's sprightly cartoon character Bunny is a real winner in this short and simple book about the arts of singing and earning and saving. Bunny is an appealing preschool character out of the mold of Peppa Pig traversing the many milestones of preschoolers. And to take this little lesson in thrift to the bank, share this story with Rosemary Wells' classic Max and Ruby charmer, Bunny Money (Max and Ruby).

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Rain Day! This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson

It's a drippy-droppy rainy gray day, with three kids and a dog listlessly hanging around inside.

But a jazzy song comes on the radio, and they all start moving to the beat.

Everyone dances --and spins,

And swings around.

One kid grabs a toy rabbit and gives it a twirl, and they all start stomping their feet. Now the energy is flowing, and it flows...

Out into the rain!

The kids, one with an umbrella, and their dog skip and jump in the puddles. It's not a bad day at all.

As one kid starts to whistle, they notice that the rain is slowing down and the clouds are floating away. Blue skies call for some cartwheeling across the green grass and playing hide-and-seek under a marigold sun.

What a great day!

High-fiving, and, yes, we're a-live-ing!

It's a perfect day, ending with drippy-droppy, slurpy popsicles, in Richard Jackson's This Beautiful Day (Atheneum Books, 2017). Jackson's evocative text captures a memorable moment in childhood, set off beautifully by artist Suzy Lee's delightful line drawings which have a movement of their own, while her gray and black color scheme shifts gently to black and blue and then to blue and white until the sun shows up to bring all the colors out to play along with the children. It's a wonderful day for childsplay. Publishers Weekly calls this one "a high-spirited hymn to childhood, an heir to earlier classics by Margaret Wise Brown and Ruth Krause."

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow? HAIR-POCALYPSE! by Geoff Herbach

There's such a thing as too much of a good thing.

For Aidan Allen, it's his hair.

Aidan is one of those guys who hates haircuts and doesn't like anyone to fool with his hair. He mostly leaves it to its own devices.

But today it's a colossal, catastrophic, cataclysmic, apocalyptic, bad-hair day!

Aidan was a grubby kid. His clothes were always wrinkled, his shoes were always untied, and he always seemed to have grass stains on his knees. But none of those was his problem.

The real problem was that Aidan's hair was completely out of control.

It's time for a showdown. Aidan confronts his hair in mirror and commands it to shape up.

Aidan orders it to LIE DOWN. His hair shrugs, wins a battle with his mom's hairbrush, and responds by twisting itself into a series of outrageous hairdos, each one worse than the last, ending with tying itself in bows all over his head.

Aidan has to go off to school, where everyone stares as his hair shapes itself into an airplane, and then an octopus, grabbing the paintbrushes in art. It turns into a raptor, slopping milk all over Noah's pants. It transforms itself from a mass of curls to a long ponytail, a Mohawk, and the world's longest and ugliest mullet. Even for laid-back Aidan, things have finally come to a head!

Back home, Aidan again confronts his hair in the mirror.

"Why are you doing this? What do you want?"

And his errant locks reply--in hairy cursive: "WASH ME!"

Aidan works out a compromise with his hair, but his shoelaces are still another issue, in Geoff Herbach's Hair-pocalypse (Capstone Young Readers) (Capstone Books, 2017). Any of us who have ever struggled with hair that seems to have it in for us (and who hasn't?) will empathize with Aidan Allen. Illustrator Stephen Gilpen does most of the stylin' here in his wildly comic illustrations in this hairy tale of out-of-control coiffures in an outrageously silly story! Hair can be, well, "hairy" to deal with, and we might as well get a few giggles out of our daily confrontations with it!

For more hair-raising stories, share this one with Laurie Halse Anderson's Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School (Read review here.)


Saturday, August 26, 2017

What Comes Next? Before And After by Jean Jullien

Who doesn't want to know what comes next?

Start with a bunch of dry spaghetti. What comes after that steaming pot? A big, steaming plate of pasta!

What comes after a head of dirty, disheveled hair? (Hopefully?) A comely coiffure!

What comes after a freshly-laid egg? A chicken! (Okay, maybe a baby alligator or a tadpole or an ostrich. ) You get the idea.

What comes after a pale sunbather? A painful sunburn (unless you use plenty of sunscreen, of course).

What comes after the front end of a dachshund? The END.

Jean Jullien's latest, Before & After (Phaidon Books, 2017) cheerfully takes on the concept of cause and effect, with a little lesson on predicting outcomes with each page turn. As she did in her hit book, This Is Not a Book (see review here,) author-illustrator Jullien uses thick blackline drawings in comic faux naif style and cleverly placed page turns in a little book that offers preschoolers a chance to guess what comes next.

The author even offers what happens in between the beginning and the end, as a dad and boy board a roller coast, ride with hands in air bravely during the first big drop, and finish the ride with Dad, dazed and windblown and boy with a great big smile. Jullien even offers a final joke, with her back cover showing what happens after that double-dip ice cream cone shown on the front cover, with her trademark little dachshund greedily lapping up the dropped scoop of strawberry ice cream. This one is a little tour de force of a concept book that offers learning and fun with each page turn.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Everybunny Needs A Name! Big Brother Peter (A Peter Rabbit Tale)

In a warm fuzzy burrow under a big fir tree, a little rabbit held his mommy's hand.

"Come and say hello to your new baby sisters, Peter," said Mrs. Rabbit.

Big brother Peter can count. He counts 1, 2, 3 babies sleeping in three cradles. He asks what they are called.

"This is Flopsy and this is Mopsy, and we need to think of a name for this one!" said Mrs. Rabbit, pointing to the last bunny.

Peter can't wait to play with his new sisters. He beats his big, loud drum right beside Flopsy's cradle. But Flopsy wakes up, and she definitely does NOT like the drum. Peter rocks her back to sleep.

Thinking he needs to try a quieter toy, Peter tries to get Mopsy to look at his boat. But Mopsy isn't interested and falls back to sleep. Mopsy and Flopsy are not being as much fun as he'd hoped. Mommy tells Peter that baby rabbits do sleep a lot and that he'll have to give his little siblings some time. So he waits. And waits some more. Finally the third bunny's eyes open and she looks like she is ready to play at last.

She giggled and she jiggled, and her big fluffy tail wiggled.

And suddenly Peter knows the perfect name for his third baby sister--Cottontail.

Wise Mrs. Rabbit knows just the perfect way to get big brother Peter interested in his new little sister by joining in the name game, in this fetching little board book based on Beatrix Potter's tales of Peter Rabbit and his sisters, in Big Brother Peter: A Peter Rabbit Tale (Frederick Warne, 2017). With charming pictures in the familiar style of Potter's beloved illustrations, with this new series the original publisher sets out to familiarize the very young with new tales of that mischievous bunny who, unlike his more proper siblings, is wont to wander far and wide to find many adventures.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

What's in YOUR Doghouse? Dogasaurus Rex by Anna Stanizsewski


Ben and Mom are off to the animal shelter, where he finds dogs galore--large and small, cute and funny, quiet and loud. But Ben wants to find the special dog just for him. And at the back corner of the shelter, in an extra-large cage, he finds just the one he wants, wagging her tail. It's love at first sight. He names her Sadie.



Mom and Ben walk his new pet toward home, Ben proudly leading his pet with a garden hose put into service as a leash.


Ben tells Sadie to sit, and she does--right on top of a parked car. She rolls over, taking out a corner fruit stand. And when Ben tells her to fetch, she obediently returns with a mail truck. The police officer advises Ben to take his pet home--pronto.

Ben builds a really big doghouse for his pet. He rubs her belly and tells her she's the best dog ever.


Then Ben thinks it's time for Sadie to go potty. She happily obliges, leaving quite a pile behind. The neighbors are disgruntled and tell Ben to get busy cleaning up behind his pet post haste.

And then Sadie gets hungry! But a bowl of kibble is not nearly enough to fill her enormous tummy. She downs the whole bag of dog food and finishes up by eating all of the food in the house. Mom shakes her head sadly.


But before Mom can put that sad conclusion into action, fate steps in. At a cry of "Stop, thief!" Sadie goes into watchdog mode and fetches the thief, who strangely offers no resistance when Sadie squashes his getaway car. All's well that ends with a happy ROAR, in Anna Staniszewski's Dogosaurus Rex (Henry Holt and Company, 2017).

Although author Staniszewski's plotline borrows heavily from those famous faves of former decades, Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur and Norman Bridwell's Clifford The Big Red Dog (Clifford 8x8),artist Kevin Hawkes' comic illustrations give this one a definitely different look from their plot look-alikes, making it clear to savvy kids from the git-go that this pet is no dog, but a well-behaved dinosaur of the T. Rex persuasion,  a conceit that gives youngsters a happy chance to giggle at the clueless grownups who take Ben's pet for a strange breed of canine.

For storytime literary lessons, this new one offers a perfect opportunity to read along with its precursors, asking those compare-and-contrast questions, "What's the same"" and "What's different?" For thematic purposes, pair this one with Steven Krensky's Dinosaurs in Disguise or Carol and Donald Carrick's classic, Patrick's Dinosaurs (Clarion books).

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Only the Lonely: Goldfish Ghost by Lemony Snicket

Goldfish Ghost was born on the surface of the water in a bowl on the dresser in the boy's room.

For quite some time he stared at the ceiling.

As is often the wont of his kind, this goldfish has gone belly up.

Even though the boy's room has its familiar charm, Goldfish Ghost begins to long for some company and finds himself, without lifting a fin, floating out the window and over the sunny scene of the little seaside town outside (not that he could see that much of it, since he was still upside down), and drifted toward the village haunted house.

Goldfish, pale as a ghost, goes unnoticed by the lively inhabitants below, fishing, boating, sunning, splashing in the shallows, and going about their daily lives. It is a jolly, cheerful scene, but Goldfish seems to have no part in it. He suddenly realizes that no one sees him and no one speaks to him.

Other colorless creatures also float by in the air but none of them seem aware that he is there.

And as the sun's shadows grow longer and deeper, Goldfish Ghost realizes that he is lonely.

Eventually it got late, so he decided to head back to the bowl.

Another goldfish was there, but she was not a ghost.

Mournfully, Goldfish Ghost floats away from his old home and and in the moonlight floats toward the haunted place.

"Everybody's looking for company," said a voice.

It was the ghost of the lighthouse keeper who had been watching him from the lantern room.

"Do you live here all alone?" Goldfish Ghost asked.

"Not any more," said the lighthouse keeper.

Lemony Snicket's Goldfish Ghost (Roaring Brook Press, 2017) takes a quietly gentle look at life after life, buoyed up by the charmingly child-friendly artwork of Lisa Brown, whose line drawings and sunny watercolor illustrations hint at the haven of happy hauntings that Goldfish Ghost finds at last.

Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler) is the celebrated author of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books, a sardonically dark but hilariously best-selling series which poke fun in mock Dickensian style at the trials of a family of clever and resilient orphans who make the best of a sequence of bad situations, and this new picture book shares the author's wry take on adversity. Goldfish Ghost will find itself in plenty of company on many a bookshelf, with a constellation of starred reviews to light the scene. "Brown’s subdued, moonlit landscapes resolve the story with moments of magic," puts in Publishers Weekly, and "... adults who come to snicker will leave unexpectedly moved," adds Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, while Horn Book's reviewer says, "... this one stands out for tenderness, originality, and subtlety."

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Right Stuff! Be A Star, Wonder Woman by Michael Dahl



Growing up is hard to do.

Facing school on Day 1 IS a challenge, one that requires some courage and perhaps some super skills, too.

In Michael Dahl's latest story, he portrays a girl rising to the challenge as the day begins. Paralleling Wonder Woman's doughty deeds with facing the trials of school, Dahl's Be A Star, Wonder Woman! (DC Super Heroes) (Capstone Books, 2017), shows how our little heroine finds her inner superhero and meets the tests that lie before her.

As a superhero, Wonder Woman is a model for girls. Aside from admirable strength and very good reflexes, she possesses none of those supernatural abilities that power Superman and his ilk. Wonder Woman has to conquer difficulties with only her goodness, her courage, her wits, and her bracelets and lasso at hand when it comes down to right making might. In this companion book to his Good Morning, Superman! (DC Super Heroes),(see review here) Dahl has Wonder Woman fighting crime and evil fearlessly in the background as his little heroine faces down the challenges of her day--spelling tests, the twisty slide, the task of peacemaking in the clique, facing the new teacher and finishing her work well on time and all alone. This girl has got the right stuff to take on the world.



As in the earlier book, Omar Lorenzo again provides the artwork, using prospective to great effect to keep the simultaneous deeds of Wonder Woman and our young heroine moving along through their day in vivid style suited to its origins in DC Comics superheroes. With the movie Wonder Woman playing at movie houses everywhere this summer, it's time for brave and clever girls to find their own superhero within, too. not just in getting up early and making the school bus, but in making a difference throughout their school day, perhaps a nobler task than warring with Circe!

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Lotsa Littles! The Littles and How They Grew by Kelly DePuchhio





All those cute and darling and lovable things about babies are true. They're all that--and more.

In her newest, Littles: And How They Grow (Doubleday and Company, 2017), Kelly DiPucchio celebrates all the wonderful things about babies.

Never mind the troublesome times. That's another set of rhymes. These jolly quatrains sing sweetly of the joys of babies for expectant parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and maybe even some siblings.





This little book in praise of infants, ably and charmingly illustrated by AG Ford, shows babyhood at its best, all cute and cuddly, and it's all too true (Okay, maybe not every single moment!) Still it makes a perfect gift for expectant parents, or grandparents, or even an expectant big sister or brother or godparent to point up what a wonderful gift a new baby is. As the saying goes, "A child is a gift you give yourself," and this book says that well. Says Publishers Weekly, in a starred and starry-eyed review, it's "a warmhearted celebration of early childhood."

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sound Stage: Say Zoop! by Herve' Tullet


It's "have finger, will travel," in Herve' Tullet's newest meta-book, a board book where the touch of a forefinger and a page turn makes all sorts of things happen. The yellow circle becomes many. It grows bigger. Tapping it quickly produces rows and rows of the dots.



The "Ohs" change colors, multiply, and form lines. They intersect. They curve. They circle and spiral. They do whatever you tell them to do--it seems.

Tullet's latest interactive board book, Say Zoop! (Chronicle Books, 2017, also adds the dimension of sound, as youngsters are urged to "Say Zoop!" say "OHOAHAHOHOH!" and "ROOOH! RAAAH!" It's both eye candy and a chance to sound off in one little book.


Aside from the imaginative fantasy fun with fingertips, this book stands out for its beauty of design. Says Publishers Weekly "...the pages grow more beautiful as well, with a Mondrian-like palette of basic primaries," and Kirkus Reviews adds, "... "Another infectiously joyful romp from the panjandrum of playful pointillism."

This latest title joins Herve' Tullet's best-selling Press Here, Mix It Up! Let's Play! and many more metabooks by him and by his fellow artists. (See reviews here).

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Where Fairy Tales Come From... ! Pinkalicious--Story Time by Victoria Kann

We were at the book fair.

I was going to meet my hero, Princess Plum. I have all her books.

The students wait eagerly but politely in line, and Pinkie can't wait to meet the beautiful Princess Plum and talk about her books. Finally Pinkalicious sees the sign she's been waiting for.


But there was a big surprise waiting for Pinkie.

Princess Plum is a man?

"I'm Syd Silver." the man laughed. "I'm the author."

Pinkalicious is amazed--and curious. She asks Mr. Silver if authors can write anything about anybody if they want to, and he tells her that he just made up the character of Princess Plum straight out of his own imagination. Anybody can do it if he or she just imagines it, he says.

When Pinkie got home after school, she couldn't stop thinking about what Mr. Silver said.

I decided to give it a try.

If Alice in Wonderland can believe six impossible things before breakfast, Pinkalicious can surely write at least that many new stories before dinner so that she can read them to her class on their "Meet the Author" Book Festival day. And she does, in Victoria Kann's beginning reader story, Pinkalicious: Story Time (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper, 2017). You don't have to be a princess to write a fairy story at all, Pinkie thinks. You don't even have to be a girl! Anyone can do it. Victoria Kann's pink-loving, improvising character is always ready to come up with a creative way to do what she wants to do, and this I-Can-Read Level 1 story is just the perfect story-starter and writing practice prompt for young readers.

For a pair of ready-for-school stories, share this one with Kann's Pinkalicious and the New Teacher.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Daddy Love! If My Love Were a Firetruck by Luke Reynolds

If my love were a firetruck,
Its sirens would flash all night!

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," said the poet, and in Luke Reynolds' If My Love Were a Fire Truck: A Daddy's Love Song (Doubleday and Company, 2017), his "Daddy's Love Song" counts up the ways a father loves a child in big, strong metaphors. He loves as loudly as a trumpeting elephant, echoing across the landscape, as bright as a blazing rocket soaring out of sight, as loud as a race car's "vroom," as loudly as a brass band's "boom."

He protects his son like a knight's shield fends off a dragon, like a bear's big hug that lasts all night long.

But after all that daddy love, with its clash and bang and roar and vroom, it comes down to a sweet snuggle, one in which they both fall gently asleep, with the boy resting on his father's chest, cuddling his firetruck as he falls asleep, with the moon at the window.

It's dream time now.
I'll meet you there.

My love for you
Goes everywhere.

And isn't that just how a parent loves a child, to the moon and back? Lucas Reynolds' rhyming text makes good use of his manly metaphors, but ends with a warm and tender closing, skillfully illustrated by Artist Jeff Mack, who handles both the mighty images and the sweet affection that boy and father share. This is a heartfelt and heartwarming bedtime story especially for dads that lets fathers show just how they feel. Says the Wall Street Journal's reviewer, "Luke Reynolds offers extravagant metaphors for paternal affections . . . a series of tenderhearted comparisons matched with colorful, exuberant pictures by Jeff Mack."

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Focus! Barnaby Never Forgets by Pierre Collet-Derby


Barnaby thought he had it all together for school!


He remembers all the right things--when to write letters to Santa, when to bring in the mail, when to feed his grasshoppers....

Well, maybe not ALWAYS. That wet swimsuit he left on the floor of his room? That jacket he misplaced... somewhere....?

But then, there's always a nice surprise when he finds something he didn't know he'd lost!


There's even a lollipop from his last birthday party at the bottom of his backpack, only slightly fuzzy.

Barnaby catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. There are his glasses--on his face already. Maybe he won't be late for school after all. He grabs his backpack and runs all the way. But...


The swings in the playground are empty. No kids are lining up at the door. The bell isn't ringing.

Could Barnaby have forgotten something important? Could today be ... SATURDAY?

And that's not the only thing Barnaby forgot, something that will keep young readers giggling right to the end, in author-illustrator Pierre Collet-Derby's brand-new Barnaby Never Forgets (Candlewick Press, 2017). Oops! Getting it (or not getting it) together for school is something we all know about, especially in those hectic back-to-school days, and Collet-Derby's illustrations of his forgetful little bunny boy are empathetic, charming, and lovable, a great read aloud to break the ice and relax the tension after that hectic scurry to school. More Barnaby, please!

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sky Star: Shine! by Patrick McDonnell

Little Hoshi was a star.

A sea star who lived in the ocean.

Every night she would gaze at the twinkling stars in the sky above and make a wish."I wish I was there instead of here."

Little Hoshi's heart is heavy, as she lets herself sink down, down, down through the depths of the sea, past bright, pastel corals, green crabs, and an reddish octopus.

She hits bottom.

"Oh, poor little me... a star stuck in the sea.”

Poor benighted Hoshi believes that there is no way she can shine in the dark ocean depths. But then she spots an approaching glimmer. Something is shining, even down at the bottom of the sea. Could it be a star, shedding light in the darkness?

No. But it is an anglerfish, a sort of philosopher Diogenes with his lantern, bearing words of wisdom. Can a kindly old fish kindle hope and light an alternative route to stardom for Little Hoshi?

Best-selling author Patrick McDonnell's just published Shine! (Little, Brown and Company, 2017) begins with the well-promulgated premise of "brighten the corner where you are," as Hoshi suddenly sees her place in the beauty around her. This is a message which may puzzle younger preschoolers a bit, but they will nonetheless rejoice at Hoshi's rise to the top of the sea, where she now feels a greater affinity with the stars in the sky. What really floats this lightweight fable are the illustrations of artist Naoka Stoop, whose glowing paintings on wood incorporate the texture of the base with shimmering, lucent, and lovely illustrations of a bedazzling seascape lit by starlight. "There's no place like home," adds Kirkus Reviews, "even underwater."

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

April 15, 1947: A Great Day for Baseball (Magic Tree House) by Mary Pope Osborne

Jack sat on his front porch steps, his chin in his hand. It was the day for baseball tryouts.

"I've decided not to go," said Jack. "I can't stop thinking about last season's tryouts. I fell down when I swung the bat. Everybody laughed."

"Yeah, well, everybody laughed at me, too," said Annie. "Remember, I threw the ball to the wrong team."

"So maybe neither of us should go," said Jack.

"But our whole family
loves baseball..." said Annie. Before she could finish, something dropped from the sky. A small white ball lay in the grass. "It's a baseball!" she said.

It doesn't take Jack and Annie but a moment to realize that they've been summoned for a mission by Morgan Le Fay, King Arthur's legendary librarian. The magic tree house was back.

Inside the tree house in the woods are two gray baseball caps and a fat book, The History of Baseball, with a bookmark for a page with a photo of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, dated April 15, 1947, and a message from Morgan Le Fay

"'Twas a big day for baseball
So many years ago.
Journey to Ebbets Field
To learn what you should know."

The Morgan message tells the kids that when they put on the caps, they will be seen as two teenaged bat boys for the Brooklyn Dodgers, with instructions to "give the ball with the name to the one who knows the rules of the game." But why? What name? What rules? It's an intriguing mystery for this pair of intrepid time travelers.

When the magic tree house drops them in a grove of trees in a park, Jack and Annie find themselves wearing baggy Dodgers uniforms and long socks and ask two kids from the neighborhood, Olive and Otis, to show them the way to the game.

Jack and Annie, who has to be "Andy" for her job as batboy, race to the ballpark and get busy putting out the Dodgers' uniforms, gloves, bats, and balls, in the dugout. They can't help glancing at the crowd, women in dresses and white gloves, men in suits and hats. The stadium is packed and there's a nervous energy in the stands as the Dodgers and Braves warm up. Then they notice something really different from games back in Frog Creek.

Here, half the stands were filling up with mostly white people. The other half were filling up with mostly black people. Annie pointed to a black Dodgers player signing autographs on baseballs. "Who's he?" she asked.

And of course, it's April 15, 1947, the day of Jackie Robinson's first game as the first black major league player. Jack and "Andy" get to see Robinson fail to hit in two at bats and bear the jeers of the crowd with dignity and courage. Now they know what rules. And then they get to see him score the winning run in the game, and they know what name should be on that ball. Now all they have to do is discover the right person to receive that autographed game ball, in Mary Pope Osborne's latest in series, A Big Day for Baseball (Magic Tree House) (Random House, 2017). And for that they have to follow Otis and Olive home and meet his great, great grandmother.

It was a great day for baseball, and an important day in our history, and Annie and Jack, as well as their young readers, now know why they were there.

"You know... Morgan didn't send us to Brooklyn to become great baseball players," said Jack.

"I know," said Annie. "She sent us there to learn how to be brave and keep going. The rules of the game."

Author Mary Pope Osborne even appends some of the lingo and rules for playing the game of baseball, a sneak peak at the perfect book to pair with this beginning chapter novel in Osborne's best-selling series, its companion nonfiction book, Baseball: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House 29: A Big Day for Baseball (Magic Tree House (R) Fact Tracker).

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Different Cloaks for Different Folks! Super Manny Stands Up! by Kelly DiPucchio

Every day Manny put on a different cape after school.

When he wore his blue cape he was fearless.

In his red cape he battled an army of of zombie bears.

In his purple cape Manny overpowers alien robots from hostile planets. In his green cape he bests forest giants.

Manny is indeed a legend in his own mind. With a wardrobe of capes for all occasions, he is strong and brave enough to defeat any mean monsters and bad guys he meets.

But Manny is a good kid, and since costumes are strictly forbidden (except on special days), at school Manny is cloaked only in the school uniform of superhero capes--

Manny saved his top-secret undercover cape for school.


But one day in the school cafeteria, he encounters a new bad guy loudly giving orders to his friend, Small One.


Tall one towered over Small One.

Manny can't move out of his seat. He can't even move his mouth. He looks around for a lunch monitor, but there's no help in sight. At last he manages to speak but his voice comes out very small and squeaky.

"Stop it."

Manny remembers his invisible cape and bumps it up a bit.

"Stop it."

Apparently, mild-mannered reproaches don't work so well with lunchroom bullies. All eyes are now on Manny and the bully. It's time for Super Manny to put up or shut up!

Will Manny find his super self and stand up to face down Tall One?

Once in a while, everyone needs to find his or her inner superhero, and Manny has his moment in Kelly DeiPucchio's newest, Super Manny Stands Up! (Atheneum Books, 2017).   Author-illustrator DiPucchio sets the scene and skillfully builds the suspense for the final shootout in the OK Cafeteria, with a timely, back-to-school message that sometimes bullies just need someone to stand up to them, especially when the small and meek are in need of rescue.

DiPucchio's pictures Manny and his superhero fantasies engagingly in her pencil and water ink illustrations and makes good use of thought balloons and font size to stage Manny's big moment. Youngsters will share Manny's moment of truth gleefully and also appreciate the secondary message that it's good to have some sidekicks on your side when super deeds are in order. Says Publishers Weekly, "When the lunchroom scene unfolds, the images take on surprising and touching drama, creating a powerful moment of truth."

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

That's... Life by Cynthia Rylant

What is life? How does it begin? What does it mean?


Noted author Cynthia Rylant takes on that sweet mystery, starting small, with Earth just shaping up as land and sea, and a small, brave seedling reacing its green leaves up to the sun. It's time to photosynthesize and oxygenize the planet.   Now you're talking!  And walking!


A little snake loves his GRASSSSSSSSSSSSSS. The centarian turtle loves the sweet, soft rain on its furrowed back.  The little elephant loves its mother's milk.


Nights can be dark and the trees can have thorns. But someone may be waiting for you to find your way home.  And there's always a new morning with something new to see.


Newberry-winner Cynthia Rylant offers a simple essay on that big subject, Life (Beach Lane Books, 2017), in a hopeful look at the meaning of life, from the "meaning of life" writ large, and in the life of some animals, wild and homey, and presumably we humans as well. Artist Wenzel's illustrations are quite lyrical and lovely, with touches of whimsy and humor in the faces of the living things he chooses to portray the many ways of life. This is a book for with something to say to persons of any age, a philosophical look at the meaning of life for all things and for just one creature that is part of the story of life.Says Kirkus, "A splendid tribute to the world and its splendors, with something to offer audiences of a broad range of ages."