Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mamacentric Universe? Everything Is MAMA! by Jimmy Fallon



Which comes first? DA-DA? Or MA-MA?

Whichever is the first word, the Big Two stand alone as the initial achievement for Baby.

Still, there's a big wide, wonderful world of words out there just waiting to be voiced, and most word-loving moms can't wait to hear them from Baby's lips.

But some kids get stuck in a rut!

SUN! (says Mom Turtle).

MAMA! (says her son, dutifully wearing his sunglasses.)

But logophile mothers keep trying with a bunch of child-pleasing nouns. Come on, Kid! Read my lips! Waffle? Hat? Boat? Ball? Balloon?

But little monkeys, ostriches, tigers, and penguins don't follow their leader. They all fall back on their favorite word! And we all know what that is, don't we? Well, one doesn't. Given the word, Boat, he comes back with Quack!

There's one in every crowd.

A mama giraffe with a very nice neck slurps a very long Noodle! Who could resist trying that nice oodly oodle word? Her baby, that's who. A mama zebra tries another juicy word--one with a plosive initial consonant and rhyming syllables--Pajamas! Back comes that favorite word.

Mother 'Gator blows Bubbles, Mother Owl hoots Moon, and Mother Sloth bestirs herself to juggle Apples, all to no avail. At least all the critter tots are consistent. (Well, not that duckling. He's gotta be the exception that proves the rule.)

Can't anybody say anything but Mama?

A companion book to late-night star Jimmy Fallon's best-selling, Your Baby's First Word Will Be DADA (see 2015 review here), his just-published Everything Is MAMA (Feiwel and Friends, 2017) gives mothers their due. It's probably true that the local version of "mama" is the most spoken word world wide, and Fallon's new picture book will have youngsters gleefully chiming in on that oft-repeated word on every double-page spread. Artist Miguel Ordonez takes up right where he left off in the first book with his soft, simple, and stylized animals in sight gags that even the littlest will find funny: a little turtle refuses to say "sun" but shows that he knows to don his sunglasses when he sees it, and a stubborn little duckling deadpans a quack right back in a species-specific response. It's all in good fun, because as all little ones know, for Mama. . .


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Monday, October 30, 2017

Disco Dog Rides Again! Groovy Joe Dance Party Countdown by Eric Litwin and Tom Lichtenheld


But alone is no fun, so Groovy Joe gets busy making disco dancin' music with tambourine and guitar. And soon someone answers the call:


What else does a dancin', guitar-strummin' dog need? Well, what does every rock 'n' rollin' song need?


And there's a percussion-lovin' mouse with sticks and cowbell to drive the band. And it's not long before Club Joe's Groove is jumpin' with dancers. And the count grows from just Joe to quite a crowd. Is there room in the dive for all this jive? The count goes up as Joe keeps on singin'!


There's always room for one more at Joe's Disco in Eric Litwin's Groovy Joe: Dance Party Countdown (Groovy Joe 2) (Orchard Books, 2017). The initial co-creator of Pete the Cat, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, Eric Litwin offers the rhymes and rhythms for another party with that dancin' dog, Groovy Joe, adding a little lesson in counting down and up and small lesson in naming musical instruments as well. Noted artist Tom Lichtenheld provides the wiggle and the jiggle in his bright and busy illustrations, in this salute to how to be a gracious host--and how to count--with a downloadable song to get everyone to join the party and sing and swing along.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Turn For the Better? The Bad Seed by John Jory

I wasn't always bad. I had a good family. We were close.

But then the petals dropped.

It's kind of blurry.... I remember a bag... and then a giant with the bag of sunflower seeds... a baseball game...

I thought I was a goner!

A childhood trauma can turn a good seed into a bad seed. Almost being eaten is a life-changing event, and since this sunflower seed landed with a bunch of spit-out shells of his fellow seeds under the bleachers, he's had a chip on his shoulder (well, if he had a shoulder that's where it would be).

He breaks into line every time. He's always late for anything and everything. His jokes drag on endlessly with no punch lines. He never listens at school. He has no friends. He never washes his hands, and flies swarm behind him wherever he goes. He's definitely got a bad rep.

"I'm a Ba-a-a-d Seed!"

Bad Seed definitely has a bad self-image. But once a bad seed doesn't mean he's always doomed to be a bad seed. One day he wakes up and discovers that how he grows up is mainly up to him.

It's hard. But I'm trying.

Maybe I'm not such a Bad Seed after all.

It looks like everything coming up roses, er, sunflowers, for this formerly Bad Seed, in Jory John's humorous new hit, The Bad Seed (Harper, 2017), whose self-improvement program has him well on the way to fitting in with all the other little corn kernels, peanuts, and pistachios. Artist Pete Oswald gives Bad Seed just the right grouchy glower to carry off his unreformed persona, with waves of unwashed stink behind him to add to the giggles, meanwhile giving readers a hint of what it means to see yourself as others see you. “This is a story that opens up dialogue about our reactions to life experiences, the consequences of our choices, and the chance to make a change for the better,” says School Library Journal in its starred review.

Author Jory John has plenty more hilarious stories of bad guys gone good, including Quit Calling Me a Monster! I Will Chomp You! and All My Friends Are Dead. (Read reviews here.)

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

From the Secret Files! The X Files--Earth Children Are Weird by Chris Carter and Jason Rekulak

"The alien spaceship vanished into the sky and it was never seen again. THE END"

Dana closed her book.

"That was really scary, Dana," said Fox. "Maybe we should sleep inside the house."

"Don't be silly, Fox," said Dana. You know aliens are not real!"

Dana and Fox are camping out in a tent in their backyard. Fox clutches his flashlight and reminds Dana that, with billions of planets in the universe, there are sure to be curious aliens willing to spy on earth creatures.

"Here we go again...!" says Dana with a smirk.

But just then something happens. What's that bright light? Isn't that what aliens do when they land their ships?


Dana points out that the flash is their porch light being turned on by their parents inside, as they come out on the porch to remind them to turn off the flashlights and go to sleep.

"Time for bed!"

But with the porch light off again, Fox spots a strange and spooky shadow. Could that be an alien?

But no, it's just their dog, Buster, looking for a hug. Okay, but what's that giant footprint Fox sees?

Dana points out that it's the site for their new swimming pool, just begun the day before.

Suddenly they hear an alien noise:


It's just an owl. And that squeaky noise? Is it aliens planning an attack? Dana drags Fox out of the tent to investigate. No, it's the swing, moving in the breeze.

"I guess I do have a really wild imagination," admits Fox.

Dana readily agrees as the two head back to their tent.

"Did you leave the tent unzipped?" Fox wonders.

"No," says Dana. "Did you?"

Those couldn't be green aliens inside their tent, eating their popcorn, could it?

They'll never know (or will they?), in Chris Carter and Jason Rekulak's The X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird: A Picture Book (Pop Classics) (Quirk Books, 2017), as Dana and Fox dash inside to the safety of their own beds. Their parents give each other a knowing look and then exchange a few whispered words...

"//%#@**//!," says Dad. "//Squee HOOO!//" snickers Mom. "??OIVAIUYI!//" woofs Buster.

The lurking alien spaceship in the sky might be a hint that perhaps Fox's fears aren't too, er, far out, in Carter and Rekulak's rebooting of the well-known TV show's premise. It's still a wacky but promising plotline for early elementary readers (who may sometimes wonder what planet their own family members are from,) and the authors, helped by the cartooning skills of artist Kim Smith, manage enough sight gag clues to keep readers wondering right to the last page. For TV nostalgics, Publishers Weekly points out the genesis of this picture book series, saying, "In this picture book riff on The X-Files, Fox and Dana are best buddies having a backyard campout, fulfilling the same roles they did in the cult TV series."

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Friday, October 27, 2017

The Cat Came Back! The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

Little Red Cat makes a hasty getaway from his house. Is he chasing a mouse? Is a dog chasing him?

Maybe he's revolting against learning his ABCs. We'll never know!

But in short order Little Red Cat meets an ALLIGATOR who clearly wants a snack. And right behind said 'gator is another predator, a BEAR!

It's quite a lineup--ALLIGATOR, BEAR, CAT (still outrunning the two). Could this be--an ALPHABET BOOK?

Well, next comes a DRAGON, and then a chicken laying an EGG (with legs), and indeed there seems to be a recognizable order in this chase.

Yes, it's definitely an alphabet book on the run, with Little Red Cat unable to exit, page right!

The Dragon has FIERY breath which is so bright everyone has to put on dark GLASSES, even the EGG, who has no ears for the earpieces. They speed through the letters, slowing down only for a vertical double-page spread in which they all PARACHUTE after the Little Red Cat.

The chase is still on and there's no stopping--except for a REST ROOM break, and then the race resumes yet again. Is there no end to this run? The SUN is going down, and they are growing TIRED! Is there any rest for the weary runners?

Never fear, gentle readers. All alphabets end eventually and this one has a gentle conclusion involving (What else?) a UNICORN and a princess with VALENTINES for all, inspiring hugs among the crowd. X marks the spot for huge YAWNS and plenty of ZZZZZZs for the well-exercised letters of the English alphabet, and isn't that what alphabet books are for?

Caldecott winning, best-selling author Patrick McDonnell's new The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC's (the Hard Way) (Little, Brown and Company, 2017) features a retro-style cartoon cat and the usual alphabetical suspects in a different sort of alphabet book that echews the usual A is for Apple type of text in a tale that never stops moving. McDonnell's illustrations are inspired and not necessarily intuitive, as his chase has his string of letter characters swinging on vines through JUNGLE and running off a cliff (NNNNNOOOOO!) in jolly Roadrunner-and-Coyote style, in action that will keep kids giggling and turning the pages--and even learning their letters The New York Times Book Review says, "McDonnell's work once again proves to be silly, sweet, and even timeless." "Give this book an F, yes, an F: for fun and funny." says Kirkus in their starred review.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Case of the Purloined Pumpkins: Flat Stanley and the Missing Pumpkins by Jeff Brown and Lori Haskins Houran

Flat Stanley is off with Dad and his little brother Arthur for fall break visiting his Uncle Bob and Aunt Sue's farm. Both boys are excited, but it's a long ride and a bit of a squeeze in the backseat.

"Ow! Your flat elbow is so pointy!" said Arthur.

"Sorry," said Flat Stanley. He folded himself up like a taco.

Finally they arrive and Stanley unfolds himself from back seat. Instantly Aunt Sue is on his case.

Aunt Sue is always baking pies to fatten him up.

"I'm flat, not skinny," says Stanley.

But Uncle Bob has some jobs Flat Stanley is perfectly suited for. While Arthur and Billy dash off to play, Uncle Bob and Stanley take care of some farm chores. Stanley's flat hands easily slip between the hens and their nests to collect the eggs without the hens even noticing, and when Uncle Bob needs to unload hay bales from his truck, Stanley makes himself into a perfect ramp to roll them down. They're done way before supper.

"You're good help," says Uncle Bob.

"But you're still too thin," says Aunt Sue. "Have another piece of pie!"

But after supper Uncle Bob needs more help from Stanley. He takes him to his pumpkin patch. Stanley is impressed and asks his uncle if he is planning to enter his perfect pumpkins in the Fall Fair.

"Oh! Gosh, no," says the super modest Bob. "I never show my pumpkins. "

But Uncle Bob has a pumpkin problem. Someone is swiping a few pumpkins every night. He's staked out the patch himself, but the thieves seem to wait until after he leaves to catch a few winks of sleep. He jokes that his scarecrow isn't up to the overnight job. But when he notices that the scarecrow has pointy elbows just like Stanley's, Uncle Bob asks him to dress as the scarecrow and keep watch until the pumpkin snatchers put in an appearance. Stanley agrees bravely, but being a scarecrow has its complications.

Stanley stood still in the moonlight. trying not to scratch.

His sleeves and shoulders were stuffed with straw!

After quite a while, Stanley hears some voices--familiar voices, very familiar voices.

It sounds like Billy, and ...Arthur? Why would Billy swipe his own dad's pumpkins?

A mystery that ends with blue ribbons for Uncle Bob and a big slab of prize-winning pumpkin pie for Stanley is a win-win conclusion, in Lori Haskins Houran's latest I-Can-Read Flat Stanley story, Flat Stanley and the Missing Pumpkins (I Can Read Level 2) (Harper, 2017). Since 1964, when Jeff Brown published the first of Flat Stanley's adventures (in which he is flattened by a bulletin board), Stanley's traveling adventures have long been popular fare for young independent readers, and this one is just made for solo reading for primary students. Comic artist Macky Pamintuan does a good job of adapting the traditional Stanley to this series of easy reading stories for youngsters, just right for October and November occasions.

Share this pumpkin tale with Houran's Flat Stanley and the Haunted House (I Can Read!, Level 2) for a pair of fall treats.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cartoon Classics: Disney Parks Present The Haunted Mansion by James Gilleard





And where better for the usual suspects on Halloween than in a haunted mansion with all the spooky trimmings--crypt doors that creak, coffins with scary hands opening the lids, a rising moon shining through the trees outside the cobwebbed window, and a mournful knell of a requiem bell. Well, what more would you want?

And if a tour of a the usual haunted house on the route of your trick-or-treat sortie is not planned, what is better than a spooky soiree in a house of horrors done up by classic Disney animation artists, set to the music of Disney stalwart Buddy Baker, with lyrics by Xavier Atensio, in the CD included in James Gilleard's vintage-styled Disney Parks Presents: The Haunted Mansion: Purchase Includes a CD with Song! (Disney Press, 2016). where a terrifying triumvirate await with your midnight fate.


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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Back Home Again: Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale by G. Neri

Mother had finally had it with him. "I wish I'd given birth to Pinocchio! At least he turned into a real boy in the end." "Pinocchio isn't real, he's fiction," was all Truman could say (he was a writer, after all).

Her answer was to ship him off to St. John's Military Academy, of all places. No cadet had every been more ill-suited than delicate little Truman. Every day he was bullied. Finally his only choice was to run away, hoping that his only chance was to run far away, hoping his curse wouldn't follow.

The only place he could think to go was Monroeville. He just wanted to see Sook, to eat Little Bit's butter beans. even to hear Jenny lecture him. He missed them all. But mostly, he missed Big Boy and Nelle.

It's 1937. Two years before, Tru had chosen his mother's custody and living in New York City with her and her new husband, Joe Capote. But he soon learned his mother didn't really want him around. She hated the way he was different, his squeaky little voice, artsy friends and clothes, "the way he sashayed when he walked."

The military school was torture, and that was how, just before Christmas, Tru, still dressed as a cadet, came to be in a freezing boxcar approaching a railroad crossing near Monroeville, Alabama. His hobo fellow traveler gave him a push and told him "tuck and roll," as the train slowed, and that's how Truman Capote found himself face-planted in the hard, cold Alabama dirt beside the tracks.

I must be cursed, he thought.

When he opened his eyes, he saw it--not a vision, but a magnificent cedar standing right before him, the perfect Christmas tree. With a tree like that, his curse would go cowering into the night. A tree like that announced a fresh start. A tree that erased the past.

As Robert Frost said, "Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

And his Alabama cousins do take Tru in, but his curse still seems with him. He finds Nelle Harper Lee wearing a dress, her hair long, looking surprisingly like a girl. And when she spots him shivering in their old treehouse and, dress and all, climbs up to pelt him with a million questions, she's just in time to see cousin Jenny's house next door suddenly take fire. Jenny, Sook, their cook Little Bit, and dog Queenie, are homeless and forced to move in with cousin Big Boy Jenning's family just before Christmas. But Sook still believes in her Christmas fruit cakes, and Truman still believes that perfect Christmas tree will make everything right, the way it used to be.

But when Truman and Nelle set out to claim that tree, they meet up with their old nemesis Boss Henderson, now bigger and meaner, son of the former Klan Grand Dragon, who's claimed the tree for himself. Just as he's about to beat the stew out of Truman for disputing the matter, Nelle clobbers Boss from behind with a big limb, and they take it on the lam, afraid Boss is dead.

He's not, but now he's really on their case. And a real murder draws Truman as Sherlock and Nelle as Watson back to their old sleuthing game. An elderly man is found dead near the river landing, and Nelle, nearby with her dad A.C., remembers noticing two colored men nearby. When two black men are found in the area, the towspeople railroad the two into a conviction, and despite A. C. Lee's defense, a Klan lynching seems a real possibility. Nelle believes she will be the cause of the wrongful death of two innocent men, and Truman is sure he's brought his own curse upon the Lee Family, the defendants, and the whole town of Monroeville, Alabama.

Even a Christmas morning snow, the first in history, doesn't make this holiday seem like Christmas, with A.C. Lee himself staked out at the jail in hope of averting a Christmas Day lynching. But then the whole Lee-Jennings family decides to move their feast--butter beans for Tru, fruit cakes for the two prisoners, and amazingly, the perfect Christmas tree--all to the Monroeville jail for Christmas dinner. It's not what Tru had hoped for, exactly; it's even a little weird, but maybe..., maybe his curse might be gone after all.

Nelle looked at Truman. "You can't keep running. You need to stand up for yourself. Tell them you are who you are.

"I'll promise to stay true to myself if you do, too. It's not all left to fate or curses, Truman."

In G. Neri's second book in series, Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), Tru and Nelle are, of course, cousins Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee, coming together for a Christmas that marks a turning point in the lives of each.

Like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, in this sequel, life in Monroeville is not unlike one of Sook's fruit cakes, sweet but dark, rich, complex, and full of the flavor of home from Snake Joe's whiskey and dried kumquats to Sonny Boular's (a.k.a., Boo Radley's) pecans, the mix of Southern sunshine and the clouds of racism that fed the imaginations of two of the most famous American authors of the twentieth century. A worthy sequel to Neri's noted Tru and Nelle (see my 2016 review here), this is a strong novel, beautifully written, imbued with a sense of place, a tale that tells the truth as only fiction can, about family and home and finding your own way when you leave both behind.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Perseverence in the Pumpkin Patch: The Great Pumpkin Returns by Scott Jerrold

Every fall, while all the kids in the neighborhood pick out their Halloween costumes, Linus Van Pelt writes a very important letter.

"Don't tell me you're writing another letter to that ridiculous fruit," Lucy says. "There's no such thing as the Great Pumpkin!"

But Linus is not deterred by his big sister's lack of belief. Hope springs eternal, and if Linus can just line up at least one true believer, he just knows the Great Pumpkin will appear in the pumpkin patch.

But recruitment of true believers is not promising. Sally had bad memories of falling for that promise last year and missing out on all her treats.

"Fool me once, shame on you!

Fool me twice and I'll SUE!"

Franklin, Pigpen, and Marcie turn him down flat. Even the empathetic Charlie Brown declines, saying gently that he truly does understand how much Linus believes in the Great Pumpkin:

"Does that help?"

No. It doesn't. But perhaps Peppermint Patty is a possibility. At least she has no bad memories from last year.

"What's the Great Pumpkin?"

Linus waxes eloquent as he describes the bounty the Great Pumpkin can bestow to those who believe. Patty promises that she can provide the pureness of heart and gratitude if she can expect a real haul.

Marcie tries to warn her.

"Don't do it, sir!" she whispers. "The Great Pumpkin isn't REAL!"

But Peppermint Patty has a Plan B. She hands her treat bag to Marcie with orders to bring it back full.

Linus instructs his new postulant in what it takes to please the Great Pumpkin:

1. Believe in the Great Pumpkin.
2. Sit in the most sincere pumpkin patch.
3. Never give up hope.
4. Never tell the Great Pumpkin what you want.

But the moon rises and the wait grows long. And when Patty whispers that she hopes that the Great Pumpkin brings her a new baseball glove, Linus is outraged. She is not following the rules. Now the Great Pumpkin won't come this year either.

"Well, it's not like you gave me a brochure to read!" Patty complains.

It looks like Year Two of the Appearance of The Great Pumpkin is going to be a no-show, too, in the new The Great Pumpkin Returns (Peanuts), but Simon Spotlight pulls out all the stops in this new trick-or-treat outing of the Charles Schulz gang. Hope happily springs eternal in Linus Van Pelt's true-blue heart, and this inexpensive paperback is a funny sequel to the original favorite, replete with sparkly French covers and with comic characterizations by Scott Jerrold that are faithful to Charles Schulz's originals.

We could all do with a bit more benevolence and sincerity in our own pumpkin patches, and with Peppermint Patty as his straight man and skeptic, Linus again has plenty of hope (and a homemade popcorn ball, courtesy of Snoopy and Woodstock) in this new Peanuts Halloween adventure.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

In the Thick of It! In the Middle of Fall by Kevin Henkes


The first bright leaves have fallen, and the rest seem to be huddling together against the chill wind, clinging to their twigs and trying not to look down at the garden, already sodden and brown.

What's going on?

It's mid-autumn. The pumpkin patch is ready for picking. The sunflowers are downcast, shedding their seeds. At least the birds are happy!


There's a time in the turning of the seasons when everyone knows it's time to turn the page on this year.... Except... could that be a snowflake? Or two, or a few....

In a companion book to his When Spring Comes, Kevin Henkes' In the Middle of Fall (Greenwillow Press, 2017) catches the seasons at the cusp, a sort of tenuous moment in the year that all creation recognizes.

In the midst of advancing winter, Henkes' illustrator (and wife), Laura Dronzek takes the best and brightest side of fall--apple and pumpkin picking, squirrels busy stuffing acorns into the hollow of a tree, and the bright carpet of leaves which, to the canny reader, actually forecasts a covering of pretty white snowflakes. There's a sort of nostalgia for summer as nature unleaves itself, but perhaps a promise of something good to watch and wait for, too, in Henkes' and Dronzek's new book. Nature knows what it's doing, as summer's bounty feeds the earth and its creatures to prepare for new life to come. "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" For those preschool and primary studies of the season, this one offers lyrical text and jewel-like illustrations. Says Booklist in its starred review, "Masterfully conceived and executed, this perfectly captures the sights and feelings many children experience during the transition from fall to winter."

For a perfect autumn pairing, share this one with Michael Hall's wonderful Wonderfall (see review here).

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

There's a Word for That? Big Words for Little Geniuses by Susan and James Patterson

arachibutyrophobia: (n.) an alarming fear of peanut butter sticking to the top of your mouth

It's no wonder that a best-selling author like James Patterson has a case of logophilia (n. a love for words). After all, doesn't a chef love food or an artist love colors?

But kids love words, too. Ask any teacher, who probably says "No talking," too many times each day.

And James and Susan Patterson's alphabetic compendium of deliciously long words, Big Words for Little Geniuses Little, Brown and Company, 2017), is a funfest for juvenile logophiles. If you have a secret language for encoding those words, what you have is idioglossia. There is even a power word for having goosebumps all over your person (horripilation) or flowing sweetly (dulcifluous) or possessed of loveliness (pulchitrudinous).

And if your pedantic logophilia leads to a love of books, what you've got is bibliomania!

But big words don't all come with pedantic Greco-Latinate roots. There are also some playfully goofy words to love just for the sound of them--like nincompoop, flibbertigibbet, gobbledygook, whirligig, and kerfuffle, words that sorta sound like what they are, words that feel good rolling off the tongue, but (to bring us around full circle), are not recommended to be attempted with a mouth full of peanut butter.

When it comes right down to it, all kids are geniuses when it comes to words, considering that they easily learn thousands and thousands of them in their early years. The Pattersons' Big Words for Little Geniuses, illustrated by Hsinping Pan with verve but not necessarily verisimilitude, is a book with brio that brings out the logophilia in all of us, regardless of age, even if we don't have xenoglossia! (Look it up!)


Friday, October 20, 2017

Scary Skeletons? Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Bones by Gabrielle Balkan

In the spooky season, skeletons are in style, giving parents and teachers an occasion to slip in some sneaky science.

And Gabrielle Balkan's Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals (Phaidon Books, 2017) is many things, one of which is an anatomy lesson on how animal skeletons display the maxim that "form follows function." Balkan makes good use of this chance to explain how giraffes' long necks help them reach high in the trees for a tender, nutritious diet, how snakes' many spinal vertebrae help them slither silently and swiftly, and how a spiky spine makes the regal horned lizard a bad choice for a quick bite to eat.

And the author sweetens the science lesson with her "Guess Who" game format which teases the young reader into turning each page.

Who has the biggest bones?

(The Blue Whale)

Balkan has a little fun with some tricky page turns, too.

Who has the fewest bones?

(A hammerhead shark?)

What? The hammerhead looks like it ought to have the usual, extra-bony fish skeleton, but animal anatomists know that sharks mostly have cartilaginous skeletons rather than bony ones. And there is more tricky and tasty trivia here--e.g., that the smallest bones in the world are the three middle-ear bones, the malleus, incus, and stapes) of the pinky-nail sized Etruscan shrew! Who knew?

Artist Sam Brewster is on the team, offering stunning white illustrations of the ten record- breaking skeletons, done in embossed, touch-and-feel fashion and set brilliantly against black pages which make the pictures pop. In more good design, the text is done in bright white to carry through with the high-contrast format. Author Gabrielle Balkan also adds a useful glossary to the backmatter to round out this book's scientific chops, making it a good choice for skeleton season that will be sought out even when the treats are all eaten. "A stylish introduction to how specialized and different bones can be," Publishers Weekly points out. "A rib-tickling gallery." quips Kirkus Review.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways: I Love You More Than The Smell of Swamp Gas by Kevan Atteberry

Little Monster is enjoying a take-your-monster-kid-to-work-night with Papa, which means they are skink-hunting deep in the stinky swamp. Papa Monster sings his happy song:


Nothing more? Little Monster is suddenly worried.


Well, when he puts it like that, Papa revises his earlier versification. He loves Little Monster more, he proclaims, even more than bloodsucking ducks! Now that's high praise for his little impling, but Little Monster has to up the ante just a bit. So Papa rises to the challenge, proclaiming that his little one is sweeter than a big whiff of swamp gas.

From a guy who knows a thing or two about monsters, Kevan Atteberry's newest, I Love You More Than the Smell of Swamp Gas (Harper, 2017) takes a spoofy but sweet swipe at Sam McBratney's classic, Guess How Much I Love You, in a silly story in which parental love is rated right along with mummified bass and oozing mud between the toes. Tickle boxes will truly turn over, as Papa counts up the many ways he loves his little "stinkling" boy. Artist Atteberry gives the read-aloud parent some fun, too, as Papa and Little Monster take a cheery stroll through the graveyard among tombstones for the likes of Long John Slither, Winnie the Boo, and Little Skunky Foo Foo. Atteberry's monsters are abstract and not the least scary, and his illustrations are indeed quite pleasing to the eye, as Papa pledges to love his little beastie boy "monstrously." As Kirkus jokes in their review, "Perfect for those parents who are sick of the treacly "how much do I love you" books and who want something with a little more ick."

Share this swamp monster saga with Atteberry's Tickle Monster and Halloween Hustle.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ding Dong! Who's There? Pete the Cat: Trick or Pete--A Lift-the-Flap Book by James Dean

Pete the Cat is excited to go trick or treating in his superhero costume.

Pete likes everything about Halloween--except the possibility that he's going to see something truly scary.

"Don't worry," says Pete's dad. We have our flashlight!"

But it's dark outside and the wind is going "Whooooo!" and something is rustling those dry leaves in the trees.

Oh, look! It's just an owl. That's not too scary!

Pete's trying to be brave and fearless, as behooves a superhero in a cape, but there are a lot of spooky possibilities on Halloween night, which give author James Dean a lot of ways to use the flaps in this inexpensive holiday paperback to suggest what may be lurking behind each well-placed flap. When he rings the first doorbell, Pete hears scary noises coming from behind that door. Who's there?

It's just his school friend Callie Cat, costumed as a witch. Not scary!

Callie tags along as Pete approaches the next house. But what's that tall figure moving in the yard?

Look! It's a scarecrow!

"Phew! That's not too spooky!"

And approaching another door, Pete spies something glowing with a flickering light and frightening faces. Look!

"Cool!" says Pete. "Jack O' Lanterns!"

But behind him! What's that? A dog in a tutu? Silly, not spooky!

"Oh! Just my friend Emma!"

There's even Grandma in a ghost costume to discover, as Pete meets and greets all the usual suspects out for trick-or-treat fun, in James Dean's Pete the Cat: Trick or Pete (HarperFestival, 2017). Dean's inexpensive little paperback is a fine treat for preschoolers who are still not too sure about venturing out in the dark, as it introduces youngsters to all those sights and sounds that abound on the trick-or-treat route. Dean's Pete the Cat is a popular guide for preschoolers and primary school kids wherever they go, and this one should be read soon to would-be Halloween goers.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Santa Claus Snacks around the World: A World of Cookies for Santa by M.E Furman

All around the world Christmas is a time for giving.

"Faithfully, truly, yearly, newly, somehow Santa always comes,"* to bring gifts to children everywhere. And kids have long loved being able to give something good back to Santa.

In North American, youngsters are likely to leave a couple of chocolate chip cookies and a small glass of milk. Santa's never complained, but elsewhere in the world, youngsters have their own favorites to offer the Yuletide saint.

Who gets the first visit from Santa? Christmas day first dawns on Christmas Island, Kiritimati, near the International Date Line, in the South Pacific, where kids have plenty of coconuts for their chewy macaroons. In New Zealand his reindeer get carrots and St. Nick gets Anzac "biscuits." In Australia, where chimneys are few, he has a master key for each front door and gets fruity cookies and cold milk or perhaps beer.

Across Asia there is a slice of cherry cake in Japan, and in the Dutch-influenced Sinterklaas tradition in Indonesia, the Saint finds a pineapple-topped nastar cookie. In India children leave spicy chai with crispy kulkuls to munch. In South Africa Santa finds Dutch chocolates and hertzog cookies, and in Malawi kids show their appreciation with ombatata, sweet potato cookies. And in Bethlehem, the treat is ma'moul, stuffed with dates, honey, and nuts.

Crisscrossing Europe, Santa is coming down the home stretch. In Russia he even has a minion, Snegurochka the Snow Maiden, to deliver the goods, and she gets the hot tea and honey spiced pryaniki cookies. Scandinavian youngsters leave risalmande pudding, and in Germany he gets a choice--Pepparkkakor or Springerle. Naturellement, French chefs go all out with dessert buffet and fine wine. In Spain it's Turron, a nougat-and-nuts dulce, while the British Isles offer mincemeat cookies and, of course, a spot, of Earl Grey tea.

It's a long haul over the Atlantic, giving Santa time to grow hungry enough for the fruity pan de pasequa, a fruit-filled sweet bread in Chile, and of course, familiar Mexican wedding cakes, with, for a nice change, a cup of cinnamon-flavored hot chocolate. With stops across the two westward continents, Santa's sleigh makes the long flight to one of his last destinations, Hawaii, where he puts his sleigh in park while he surfs to the beach and chows down on tropical pineapple-macadamia cookies.

Santa lovers all over get a chance to sample holiday treats wherever the Saint is welcomed, in M. E. Furman's festive new A World of Cookies for Santa: Follow Santa's Tasty Trip Around the World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).

It's a wonderful world-wide custom to share with Santa and others at Christmastide, one which gives kids a chance to give back to the Christmas saint of children. Furman's book offers a smorgasbord of Santa's snacks, offering a buffet of the various customs and Christmas cuisine of 32 places--from Sri Lanka to Ukraine, along the way. The author provides a sampler of some recipes from all around the world, from familiar Mexican wedding cakes to the exotic Basque almond tile cookies, all easy enough for kids, in the best tradition of Christmas, to share in the making. Artist Susan Gal's illustrations fill the pages with Christmas cheer, jolly children giving their homemade goodies up for Santa's refreshment. This book is a first purchase for libraries and for the home-baking bookshelf.

* The Year Without a Santa Claus, by Phyllis McGinley.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Boo Time: Eek! Halloween! by Sandra Boynton



Well, who wouldn't be?

It's dark, dark night. Strange figures glimmer into sight.

Pumpkins flicker, nose and eyes alight.
Pumpkins with glowing grins! Can that be right?

A mouse, more ginormous than he ought to be.
A witch and a wizard? Oh, Golly, Gee!

Who are these strange creatures? What will they do?
Suddenly the hens start to get a clue.
A pudgy shrouded shape, moaning BOO?

Now they know WHO!

Before the chickens totally chicken out, Pig sheds his spooky sheet.

Now they know what all this must mean. It's...


Sandra Boynton's holiday board book, Eek! Halloween! (Workman Publishing, 2016), is a treat (just the right size for that plastic treat pumpkin) for the youngest book lovers. Boynton sets off her familiar silly chickens and portly pig in bright Halloween colors set against black backgrounds that make them pop from the page, in this rhyming story which sets the stage for Halloween fun. "Kids anticipating their first Halloween will be easily convinced that the upcoming holiday is full of spooky fun," says School Library Journal.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Worry-Warts, Unite! Sam the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the Whole World by Mo Willems

Sam was scared of anything and everything.

Really. The PLINK of a raindrop scares him stiff. A tiny spider scurries away out of Sam's sight, but he's still terrified. Even the Pigeon driving the school bus spots Sam and snarkily says SHEESH!

Sam is the world's biggest scaredy cat, all right. Everything frightens him....

Except for his friend Leonardo, the Terrible Monster.

Leonardo is a terrible monster, scarcely scarier than the raindrop, but he tries his best. Sam may be the biggest scaredy-cat known to man, but he's not afraid of Leonardo. (Nobody is, but still....) But it seems that Sam is not the ONLY scaredy-cat of note in the neighborhood.

One day Sam made a particularly scary discovery.

He and Leonardo meet up with a girl named Kerry and her feline monster named Frankenthaler. (Kerry was the second most scaredy-cat kid in the world.) Of course, Sam and Kerry are terrified.



Both of the kids hurl themselves to the ground and curl up, teeth chattering.

But strangely, Frankenthaler and Leonardo hit it off right from the start. Sam and Kerry, on the other hand, are scared spitless--but not of each other's monsters!

They are scared of strange KIDS! They are afraid of EACH OTHER.

But this time their monsters have had it with their scaredy-cat charges. Leonardo and Frankenthaler buddy up and head off, page right, for some fear-free fun on their own.


It's time for some tough love from Sam and Kerry's mild-mannered monsters, in three-time Caldecott winner Mo Willems' latest, Sam, the Most Scaredy-cat Kid in the Whole World: A Leonardo, the Terrible Monster Companion (Hyperion Books, 2017). In this companion book to his hit, Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, Mo Willems doesn't abandon his cowardly kids, even slyly giving them a chance to join forces to turn the tables on their monsters. Overcoming fears of the unknown is a popular theme, and in this one Willems adopts the wide-open style of its companion title, using muted colors, spare text, and hand-lettering to good advantage to tell his tale of finding some social courage. "Visually and narratively, this story is a lovely bookend to Leonardo," says Publishers Weekly.

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