Sunday, December 31, 2017

Because--Love! The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

The day Abelard and I broke the wall, we had a four-hour English test. After the test I told my feet to take me to geography. If I didn't, I'd find myself in the quiet calm of the art wing, where the fluorescent lights flickered an appealingly low cycle. Sometimes I think I'm not attention deficient but attention abundant. Too much everything.

I sat in the back of the room because that's where the two left-handed desks were--in the row reserved for stoner boys. Thirty seconds after Coach Neuwirth left the room, the murmur of voices turned into a conversational deluge.

My feet made a decision in favor of the door, but a squeaking metallic noise stopped me. I turned. Directly behind was an accordion-folded vinyl wall. The handle moved. Now the handle jiggled up and down. It made no sense. I leaned over and grabbed the handle. I put both hands on the bar and pulled.

There was a loud pop. The bar went slack. The opposite end of the vinyl wall slid back three feet.

Love was born the day Abeland and Lily were sent to the office for breaking the folding wall. As they waited together, Lily couldn't stop looking at Abelard. There was a scar on his cheek, and she remembered a day in first grade when she was spinning wildly with her lunchbox in her extended hands and it hit him. He didn't cry, she remembered, or tell on her. And this time he takes the blame for breaking the wall while trying to fix it. Abelard is beautiful and kind, and Lily has a sudden impulse.

I kissed him, just a momentary soft press of my lips against his. A stray impulse that didn't make sense, my wires crossed by the randomness of the day.

With a full-blown case of ADHD and a touch of dyslexia, Lily's wires are often crossed. Despite her intelligence and talent, the details of time, directions, and sometimes the words she hears and reads fall apart inside her brain. She's failing geography and English because she loses assignments and forgets deadlines. Abelard is like her mirror image, opposite in almost every way. Brilliant in math and engineering, obsessive about time and details, but cut off from relationship with others by his autism, he seems as strangely drawn to Lily as she is to him.

Gradually the two begin to text each other. Lily's father, a doctoral student who had abandoned his brilliant dissertation and family to join a farm commune, had once read the Letters of Heloise and Abelard to her, and when she discovers that Abelard also loves them, they carefully choose texts from the Letters that fit their feelings. Gradually they begin to spend time together, and they realize that their feelings are growing deeper. And when Abelard begins an early college entry, the two star-crossed lovers forge an improbably escape together there. Somehow together, Lily feels, she and Abelard together will not be broken, but whole.

In Laura Creedle's The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), the premise of being broken and yet whole is central. Lily's mother hopes that first medications and then a surgical implant will fix her, but Lily fears that the treatments will leave her without the best part of herself. But as she meets her father again and comes to know his history of things not finished and people abandoned, she realizes that she doesn't want to leave a trail of broken hopes and plans and relationships behind her as he has. And perhaps Abelard's differences somehow dovetail with hers. She sends him a long text.

Abelard, in an alternate universe somewhere, there is a less destructive version of me that doesn't break things. But in a less chaotic universe, we never would've happened.

But in this chaotic universe, I broke a wall, and I got--you. Oh, lucky destruction. You made me realize that breaking is just inept fixing, inspired by the same curiosity about how things work in the world.

Creedle's is a different teen-love story with a richness of texture and personalities, with no bad guys, not even Coach Neuwirth, just people trying their best to make things work in their own worlds, an imperfect world, but with a love story with a different slant on young love and on fixing ourselves for the ages.

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

X Marks the Spot! Find Spot at the Museum by Eric Hill




Spot the puppy is not exactly in his element in the museum. He can't chew on the dino bones. He can't look behind the screen at the exhibit under construction. Oh, there's his chewy bone. Now, maybe he'll be good.

What's just through those big doors?

Oooh. A cave man and a big bear! Wow! There's a woolly mammoth. Now that's BIG!


It's hard to find a little puppy in the huge museum! There's a saber-toothed tiger, but no Spot! What's inside this cave? Let's look.

Not Spot!

Let's see if Spot is hiding in that mummy case! King Tut? No pup!

How about the Oceans Exhibit? Is Spot inside this giant clam shell? No, he's not.

Where, oh, where has our little Spot gone? In Eric Hill's latest Find Spot at the Museum (Frederick Warne, 2017), readers have to look under a lot of museum stuff to spot that peripatetic pup. Along the way they'll learn about the many interesting things to be found in the natural history museum in this jolly and educational little board book with natural surprises under each flap. X marks the Spot!

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Friday, December 29, 2017

On the Town: A Night Out with Mama by Quvenzhane' Wallis

My new blue shoes make a soft tap, tap, tap as I walk down the hall.

The sun is just up now, and it's just me, excited for the day to begin.

Today is extra special so Daddy makes everything I love for breakfast.

There's a big night out with Mama coming up, an award show, and the two are stepping out tonight. The blue shoes are just the beginning. There is a beautiful blue dress to match the shoes, and a glamorous lady who comes to create a special hairdo to go with it.

Then a big long car comes to take them to the event. Mama tells her daughter that there will be a red carpet to walk in on and photographers' flashbulbs popping all around them. The girl practices waving from the big black car. She's thrilled with the glamour of it all.

That is, until she steps out of the limo onto that famous carpet.

I fall flat on my face!

But she scrambles up like a trooper, and poses for pictures with Mama with a big smile. Suddenly she's really getting into it all.

I'm having the time of my life!

It's a time to remember, with late-night ice cream sundaes to boot, in A Night Out with Mama (Simon and Schuster, 2017), in what is an actual, if fictionalized, account of author Quvenzhane' Wallis' evening at the Academy Awards as a nine-year-old nominee for her role in the movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Even though most kids' nights out with mama won't include the Oscar Awards, a dress-up girl's night out can be just as memorable an occasion, and Wallis offers a kid's-eye-view of a major moment in time between mother and daughter. Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton catches the excitement of that special night with just the right touch of glamour and sparkle, along with the closeness of parent and child in a night that makes a lifetime memory. Says Booklist, "Kids will appreciate that, whether everyday or singular experiences, it's sharing them with loved ones that matters most."


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Oh, Looky! It's Loki on the Loose! The Ship of the Dead: Magnus Chase and Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan.

Magnus Chase is still dead.

"Try it again!" Percy Jackson told me. This time with less dying."

Standing on the yardarm of the USS Constitution, looking down at Boston Harbor two hundred feet below, I wished I had the natural defenses of a turkey buzzard. Then I could projectile vomit on Percy and make him go away. The last time he'd made me jump I'd broken every bone in my body. My friend Alex Fierro had rushed me back to the Hotel Valhalla just in time for me to die in my own bed.

Unfortunately, I was an einharji, one of Odin's immortal warriors. I couldn't die permanently as along as I expired within Valhalla. I woke up as good as new. Now here I was again, ready for more pain. Hurray!

"Look, Magnus," Percy told me. "You'll be sailing across hostile territory. A bunch of sea monsters and sea gods and who-knows-what-else will be trying to kill you. At some point you're going to get thrown off the boat. You'll need to know how to survive the impact and get back to the surface ready to fight. That's going to be tough, especially in cold water."

Easy for you to say, Magnus thinks. Percy is the demi-god son of Poseidon. Icy oceans are his thing. But Magnus Chase is the son of Frey, Norse god of summer. Diving from the mast of Old Ironsides into Boston Bay in winter is not part of his resume'.

But Percy and Magnus's cousin demi-goddess Annabeth have come to Boston, the semi-secret site of Valhalla, to help him train for his next task, re-chaining the evil Norse deity, Loki. It's no minor mission. Loki is on the loose and is readying his cursed ship Naglfar for a voyage that promises to set off Ragnarok, the Day of Doom in which the einharjar will confront Loki in a twilight of the gods battle that will end the world.

So, no pressure.

The quest starts off well enough, and with Magnus using his father's enchanted handkerchief, which, when dipped in sea water, becomes an extreme version of a Viking warship, and with a little help from his friends, fellow einharjars Alex Fiero and Thomas Jefferson, Jr., defrocked Valkyrie Samirah, and his former homeless associates, the elf Hearthstone and dwarf Blitzen, and of course his snarky but effective Summer Sword, (a.k.a. Jack), the reconstituted longboat sets sail. But Magnus and Company soon run afoul of Aegir, lord of the waves and his seven giant wave daughters, who threaten to sink the mission before it even gets clear of Boston Harbor. It looks like a deadly drowning for all within their icy maelstrom, but Magnus utters a quick prayer for help to his father Frey. Frey seems to be out of town, but Magnus gets the next best thing, his grandfather Njord, who saves the ship and crew. Njord's advice is for Magnus to defeat Loki in a flyte, a deadly Norse duel of insults, winner take all--or maybe Ragnarok take all.

So, again, no pressure for our favorite undead teen, cum Viking hero, Magnus Chase.

Rick Riordan's latest book, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3 The Ship of the Dead (Disney Hyperion Press, 2017), features a cameo from Percy Jackson, hero of the perennially best-selling Percy Jackson and the Gods of Olympus series. As always, there's a plenty of adolescent quips and angst, sort of a snarky sturm und drang on steroids, with a seemingly endless supply of assorted monsters, evil and clumsy gods, giants, and other mythological bad guys, as Magnus and his band of brothers (and sisters) prevail in the ongoing quest to quell evil. After all, the alternative is Ragnarok, and nobody wants that. As always, author Riordan endears himself to English teachers of classic mythology by appending a glossary of Norse deities and vocabulary and a pronouncing dictionary of names of gods, giants, and places.

Already a best-seller, this one is a sure-fire read for fans of author Rick Riordan's assorted novels of young heroes in his various tales of the intersection of modern life with ancient mythologies, including the Kane Chronicles, featuring a young teen brother and sister and the various Egyptian deities, his Greek god spinoff series, The Trials of Apollo, featuring a demoted-to-mortal sixteen-year-old Apollo somewhere in middle America, and the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series.

For a quick background on the Gods of Asgard series so far, see my reviews of the two previous books, here.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Too, Too Mistaken! Pinkalicious Tutu-rrific! by Victoria Kann

Alison and I giggled as we tried to stand on our toes.

Tomorrow we were going to ballet class together.

Pinkilicious and Alison trade notes on their ballet attire. Alison says she's wearing purple, and Pinkilicious reports that her tutu, ballet slippers and hairbow are all, of course, pink! They make plans to meet before class.

When Pinki is dropped off, she spies a purple-clad girl just going through the door. She dashes after her. In the mix of pastel tutus milling in the hall, finding their classes, she spots a girl in purple disappearing into one studio. That must be Alison!

Pinkilicious dashes down the hall and into the room. Girls are everywhere, putting on their dance shoes, stretching, and chatting nervously. As the teacher calls the class to the barre, Pinkie follows them, finding a place far behind the girl in the purple tutu. She finds the work at the barre easy enough, and performs the positions and her plie' perfectly. But Pinkilicious can't find her friend anywhere among the students. But then the teacher claps and beckons them to form rows and has them do some spins. Those are Pinkie's best move. She twirls with the best of them!

I looked around. This was easy! Piece of cake!

But then the teacher asks the students to run through the steps they learned the week before. Pinkie tries to do what everyone else is doing, but they move too fast.

I couldn't keep up!

Pinkie's cover is blown. The teacher suddenly realizes that she is new to the group, and after class she calls her up on the carpet.

"You! You're not in this class," she says.

But first, could you spin again?

Pinkilicious confesses to her mistake, but the teacher is kind and compliments her on her spinning technique, and Pinkie's ballet slippers are walking on air as she reunites with Alison, in author-illustrator Victoria Kann's Level 1 I-Can-Read book, Pinkalicious: Tutu-rrific (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper I-Can-Read). Young beginning reader balletomaines and fans of Kann's pink-fancying protagonist will find this Pinkilicious title en pointe

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Ringing It In Right! The Night before New Year's by Natasha Wing



But one thing has changed over that year. The two youngsters have grown up some, and the senior lad now has a yen to experience that magic moment when the calendar turns the page to a brand new year. And to his surprise, his parents grant his grown-up wish!



Even the preparations for their party are exciting. The family heads off to stock up on supplies--party hats and horns to toot, confetti and streamers, popcorn and poppers, balloons and a banner that spells out HAPPY NEW YEAR! It's hard to wait. New Year's Eve day is almost as long as Christmas Eve!

But after a late-night supper with favorite treats--pizza and cupcakes--all he can eat, the whole family toasts memories of the old year and the New Year together! The boy recalls fun holidays with dozens of cousins, and then Dad reveals another end-of-year tradition--New Year's resolutions! Mom and Dad have theirs ready to announce, but the boy draws a total blank.

They watch the crowd in Times Square on television, and sleepy little brother follows their puppy to dreamland in the doggy bed, but then--surprise--there are fantastic fireworks outside their window. Now the boy is wide awake, and, (a plus!) he gets to pop all the poppers by himself. Then it's close to midnight, and the boy waits quietly on the sofa for the final countdown to turn the page on the calendar, toss the confetti and streamers, and shout "Happy New Year!" out the window. . . .



But there is one consolation! Our boy has his resolution--to make it till midnight next New Year's Eve, in Natasha Wing's The Night Before New Year's (Grossett and Dunlap, 2017 pb. ed). Author Natasha Wing is the Empress of Eves with her sizable series of The Night Before books, and this one makes a great run-through for young readers just coming of age to welcome in the new year. Wing's bouncy rhyming quatrains practically read themselves, and artist Amy Wummer provides the homey New Year's scenes to give kids a perfect preview of the festivities.

Other well-loved seasonal books in this series are The Night Before Hanukkah and The Night Before the Night Before Christmas.

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Monday, December 25, 2017

Goodnight, Goodnight, Vehicles of Flight! Where Do Jet Planes Sleep at Night? by Brianna Caplan Sayres

We know where Santa's sleigh is parked tonight. But where do big airliners go after unloading passengers at their gates and their baggage into carts on the tarmac?


Do the big 777s say nighty-night with tall tales of their long hauls to Australia?


What about all the other smaller planes seen in the sky? What about those other flying vehicles like hang gliders and hot-air balloons? And where does Air Force One go to rest when the President is back in bed at the White House?

Where do all those awesome aircraft go when their workdays are done?

Why, they're hanging out in their home hangars with their families, tucked into their berths by their mom and daddy planes with hugs and a nice change of oil and a bedtime story, in Brianna Caplan Sayres' newest in her series, Where Do Jet Planes Sleep at Night? (Random House, 2017, where they have sweet dreams--


With comically anthropomorphic flying machines of all kinds, illustrator Chris Slade keeps 'em flying, with a cozy place to park their engines and wings when it's time for a comfy layover, just like their little human admirers, and Sayres' storytelling leads little lovers of aircraft toward parking themselves in their own little hangars for the night, while also introducing many types of flight. Says Kirkus Reviews, "Combining a quiet, nocturnal story with the ever popular subject of flying machines, this is a nifty bedtime book for budding aviators."

And for fans of Sherry Duskey Rinker's best-sellers, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train 1-2-3, share this one with others in Sayres' cozy series, such as Where Do Steam Trains Sleep at Night? or Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Letter Perfect! Dear Dragon: A Pen-Pal Tale by Josh Funk

Hello, students! Our Poetry and Pen Pal Projects this year are combined.

Open your desks. You will see the pen pal you have been assigned. Make sure the letters you write are all in rhyme.

Young George is a bit daunted with his assignment as he opens his first letter from his pen pal:

Dear George Slair,

I usually don't like writing, but... I'll try it, I suppose.
A fort is like a castle. I love attacking those.
                                      Sincerely, Blaise Dragomir

Hmmm. George's pen pal sounds promising: he even likes to sky-dive. Wow! He writes back, asking if Blaise has a pet. Blaise claims that he has a Bengal kitten, and George is impressed, imagining Blaise diving through the sky with a tiger on his team.

And actually George is not too far off the mark. His pen pal, Blaise Dragomir, is actually a young dragon, but as George Slair and Blaise Dragomir continue their correspondence, they find out that they have a lot of things in common, even if their dads have really different jobs (fire-breather vs. demolition), and when their teachers announce that the P.P.P.P. will end with a picnic, they are psyched about finally meeting their pen pals.

But there are some surprises in store for the two groups of epistolary poets!



All ends well, with the pen pals playing nonstop in the park, in Josh Funk's Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale (Viking, 2016). Young readers may note the clues in Funk's clever names for his correspondents, and some may guess Blaise Dragomir's true identity as the letter exchange continues, with visual cues provided by artist Rodolfo Montalvo's light-hearted and busy full-bleed illustrations, with the theme that despite differences, all kids have a lot of common.

For more humorous human-dragon interchanges, share this book with Adam Salieri's best-selling hit Dragons Love Tacos and sequels (read review here).

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

He's SO Unique! That's Not My Unicorn....Its Mane is Too Fluffy! by Fiona Watt.



For a mythical mystery tour, a kid must have a unicorn, ye old horne'd steed of the magical creed.

But the discriminating tot has to find just the right sort of wondrous ride. Just any old unicorn will not do!

As the title specifies, its mane can't be too fluffy.

Its ears cannot be TOO soft, either. On the other hand, its hooves best not be that bumpy, either. And then the wings aren't feathery enough, either.

In Fiona Watt's latest in the Touchy-Feely series, That's Not My Unicorn... (Usborne, 2017), illustrated in simple black line drawings by Rachel Wells, the best mythical beast simply must have a horn that sparkles!

But the young reader does not have to be forlorn! Just look! There's MY unicorn! The best fantasy mount has a sparkly horn! Usborne's touchable and tactile series of tiny but virtually indestructable board books offers lots of feely finger fun for the very youngest unicorn fancier.

For more fantastical feely experiences, share this one with That's Not My Dragon...(Usborne Touchy-Feely Books).

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Give Peace a Chance! I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde

"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours."

Hundreds of years before, poet William Wordsworth described the way we all feel sometimes. Even children can feel overwhelmed with the "too much" and "too many" of things.

There are times when I worry about what might happen next and what happened before.

Everyone, even kids, have times when they have minds that are too busy, too full of everything. Susan Verdes's I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness (Abrams Books, 2017) speaks to those moments when children need to stop and re-balance themselves.

I give myself a moment.

I tell myself, it's all right.

To just be in the Here and Now is the premise of Verde's little book, lovingly illustrated by the notable Peter H. Reynolds, whose art makes sense of the "mindfulness" concept of just breathing and being for that moment, and being thankful for it. Verde's text and Reynolds' peaceful and lovely illustrations, appropriately "centered" on the page, provide the moment of balance, like a tree, that everyone needs. Says Kirkus Reviews, "A guided meditation exercise offers interactive opportunities for readers to create their own mindful time. A gentle, helpful tool for cultivating kid mindfulness."

Share this one with Verde's and Reynolds' earlier I Am Yoga.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

"One Pen Can Change the World:" Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

When I was little I used to watch a TV show about a boy who had a magic pencil.If he was hungry, he drew a bowl of curry. He drew a little hero, always protecting people who needed help.

How I wanted a magic pencil, too!

Kids often wish for a magic pencil or magic wand or super powers, that they could be a star in the sports or movies, make school vacation last forever, or as Malala did, to keep her brothers out of her room, but like Malala Yousafzai, they soon find out that there's more to it than wishing.

For what Malala wished for most was just to go to school. The simple freedom for a girl to be allowed to begin middle school was being denied in her regions of Pakistan, and her parents' support and her private girls'school didn't keep her safe, and her reputation as a young blogger led to her being shot by a would-be assassin.

But Malala survived and bravely went on to be the world's advocate for freedom of access to education, becoming the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In a way, she got her wish. Her words became her magic pencil to influence world opinion about education for girls and for all children.

"One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world, " she wrote.

Malala Yousafzair's book, Malala's Magic Pencil (Little, Brown and Company, 2017), engagingly  illustrated by the co-artists Keroscoot, describes in her own words how Malala became the world's advocate for girls and women's rights and why education is of prime importance in this world. The New York Times Review says this book is ...a triumph, for it is a story with hard truths, yet it is accessible for young children, an excellent book to begin conversations about world injustice with children."

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Duck--And Cover! Duck, Duck, Dinosaur: Snowy Surprise by Kellie George

It's winter!

Today the surprise is...    SNOW!

For Feather (a duck) and Flap (also a duck) and their brother--by another-mother--Spike (NOT a duck; more like a dinosaur actually), the first day of winter has brought them something they've never seen before.

It's white and it's slippery, and of course Spike LOVES it! (Spike loves everything.) It's cold and it's wet, and of course Feather and Flap hate it. Their little webbed feet are in danger of turning blue.

But Brother Spike is gonzo about snow!

Nothing will do but for Spike to urge his little feathered semi-siblings to join him in a frenzy of winter sports. Feather and Flap loyally shiver through rounds of snowball fights, shake through belly-flop sledding, and get goosebumps from ice skating on the frozen pond. If the ducklings had teeth, they would be chattering all through Spike's snowman-building challenge, too. Brrrrrrrr!

Feather and Flap are about to mount a hypothermia mutiny when they spot MAMA, bearing hot cocoa and what looks like a mountain of poofy, downy duck jackets, knitted caps with ear flaps, and woolly-lined snow boots made for chilly webbed feet. Suddenly the ducklings are all go-go for snow!

What a surprise!

Mama knows best when it comes to winter wear, in Kellie George's latest book in her quacky-quirky sort-of-sibling tales in her emergent reader series, Duck, Duck, Dinosaur: Snowy Surprise (My First I Can Read) (Harper, 2017).  In this new book about those off-beat brothers, a sudden snowfall shows the Mama knows best when it comes to bundling up for frosty play. Author George's breezy narrative is easy for new readers to sound out, and artist Oriol Vidal offers her quacky-wacky off-beat illustrations of these unlikely siblings as visual cues to the text. Share this new one with Kellie George's and Orio Vidal's first story of the unlikely family of ducklings and dinosaur, Duck, Duck, Dinosaur. (See review here.)

School Library Journal gives this new one a two wingtips up: "Lots of word repetition combined with a simple but enjoyable plot make this an essential purchase for most beginning-to-read collections."

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Extra-ordinary! We're All Wonders by R. J. Palacio

I know I'm not an ordinary kid.

Augie Pullman has never been ordinary. Born with a cranial malformation, even as a preschooler he couldn't help noticing the looks of fear, aversion, and even horror he got from strangers.

So when Augie learns about astronauts, he asks for a space helmet that hides most of his face and wears it everywhere he goes. At least it gives him a chance to play outside--even if he plays alone, except for his loyal dog Daisy.

Sure, I do ordinary things. I ride a bike. I eat ice cream.

I just don't look ordinary.

It hurts to be so different that others either turn away or stare at him with revulsion. Augie's parents try to explain and try to help him understand that inside he is good and smart and talented. And Daisy loves him unconditionally.

My mom says I'm a wonder.

The story of Augie Pullman, told so movingly in R. J. Palaccio's best-selling children's novel, Wonder (see review here) as well as in the recent hit movie, "Wonder," is available with a picture book format for young readers here in We're All Wonders! (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017) With the theme, "Choose Kind," this one has a message for all of us.

I can't change the way I look.

But maybe... people can change the way they see.

Look with kindness and you'll always find wonder.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

The Little Christmas Tree That Could! A Charlie Brown Christmas Charles Schulz, creator, adapted by Maggie Testo.

"There must be something wrong with me, Linus," Charlie Brown told his friend.

"Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I just don't understand Christmas, I guess.

I always end up feeling depressed."

But Linus is not one given to overthinking his holidays.

"You're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem, Charlie Brown," he says.

And all of Charlie Brown's friends have a different take on how to lose the Christmas blues.

Charlie consults Lucy (The Doctor Is IN) at her psychology booth. Lucy always has an angle, and she advises that he get "involved" in the season by directing their Christmas play.  Sister Sally tries to enlist C. B. in helping her with her extensive Christmas list. Snoopy invites him to help him win the neighborhood Christmas lights contest, beginning with his doghouse. Good grief.

"My own dog has gone commercial!" Charlie Brown groans.

Charlie Brown shows up for the first rehearsal of the Christmas play, declaring that this play is not going to be commercial. To make sure, he puts himself in charge of the Christmas tree, which he is determines will NOT be a garishly over-glitzed mega-tree. But when he shops for the tree, he comes up with a rather scraggly specimen. Linus is not pleased with the purchase at first. But after rehearsing his lines for a while, Linus comes to a new understanding of what Christmas is all about.

"It's not a bad tree," said Linus. "It just needs a little love."

And a little love is what it's all about, in the newly revised version of Charles Schulz' classic story, A Charlie Brown Christmas: Deluxe Edition (Peanuts) (Simon and Schuster, 2017). The script of the beloved television special is retold lovingly in full in a new and nicely illustrated version with the artwork by Vicki Scott. This special holiday edition, meant for gift-giving, offers thoughtful children a way to think about the reason for the season. Share this one with Tomie dePaola's similarly-themed Christmas classic, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona.For as Strega Nona says, "Christmas has a magic of its own."


Sunday, December 17, 2017

No Way for Santa? Santa's Magic Key by Eric James

I didn't notice it was missing until Christmas Eve...and only then because I was looking for places to hang my stocking in our new home.

Immediately the boy sees his dilemma. How can St. Nick make his visit if there's no easy way into his house? But this kid is proactive. He hurries to find pen and paper and writes Santa a letter explaining that he has no chimney.

He seals the letter quickly and bustles out to mail the letter. He knows that Santa must already be loading his sleigh. Time is short! But when he arrives at post office, he sees the sign.


Snow starts to fall. Disheartened, the boy sadly starts back home . But when he turns the corner, he finds himself on a street he's never seen before. And there's a little shop with a welcome sign:


"Please, I have to get this letter to Santa Claus as soon as possible," the boy pleads. "He needs to know I don't have a chimney! Will Santa get it in time?" he asks the red-clad man at the counter.

"I guarantee it!" says the jolly white-bearded clerk.

Pointing to the heavy snow blowing by the shop window, the clerk offers the boy a red coat to keep him warm on his way home.

And inside the coat pocket was a real key!

The boy rushes back out into the street, but as he looks back to wave to the kindly clerk, the shop seems to have disappeared in the falling snow. He hurries home to put up his stocking, put out cookies for Santa, and hang the key by the front door with a thank-you note for St. Nick.

And as we know, Santa has many ways of getting the job done, and so he does in Eric James' Santa's Magic Key (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2017). Author James makes use of the much-loved premise of Christmas magic, majorly assisted by artist Simon Mendez, whose lovely, retro-styled illustrations are reminiscent of Charles Santore's top-selling award-winning The Night Before Christmas. (See review here.) Done with classic Christmas style, in a large-format picture book featuring an ornate key inset in the cover just like the one in the story for chimney-less kids to put out for Santa every year, this one makes a dandy Yuletide gift for kids who want to make sure Santa gets to make his big entrance on Christmas Eve.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Trim the Tree Time! Under the Christmas Tree by Gabriela Climo


What tot doesn't want to "help" decorate the family Christmas tree--even before he or she can reach higher than the lowest branch?

It's a temptation to let the littlest ones get in on the holiday fun, and Gabriela Climo's little pull-the-tab board book gives toddlers and preschoolers a safe way to preview the festivities, beginning with the cover, where a slide tab allows them to brighten up the Christmas tree all by themselves, as bright lights, colorful ornaments, and a topper star pop into sight on an evergreen tree.

And there's more tab fun--putting a face on the snowman and putting a letter to Santa into its envelope, as well as moving Santa's sleigh through the nighttime sky.

And of course, when that Christmas Eve sky darkens, it's time for tots to turn off the lights in the house. And that means that it's also time for youngsters to close their eyes and sleep tight while Santa's boots come into view as they drop down the chimney.

And there are even surprises in store on Christmas morn. What's in that package? Open the box to see something fun and furry, in author-illustrator Climo's clever new little toy and movable book, Under the Christmas Tree (Sterling Books, 2017), a perfect little surprise for a favorite little one for pre-Christmas giving or a stocking stuffer for youngsters still new to the season.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Speaking Poetically... Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander

"Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing," wrote the award-winning poet Lucille Clifton. That's a broad statement, since the word "wonder" itself can carry dual meanings, to be in awe and to question something, but its meaning applies well to children, who know both feelings well.

But poetry often doesn't feel natural to most young people, who, like even the best of rapper-poets, are still tied to the idea of fixed rhyme and meter. But along comes Kwame Alexander, writing a novel about, of all things, a twelve-year-old who lives for basketball and outdoing his twin brother at it. It's not easy combining vibrant game-play with sibling rivalry and life and death in blank verse stream-of-consciousness poetry for middle-schoolers, but Alexander did it with aplomb, winning the 2015 Newbery Award with his novel The Crossover (review here).

Now Alexander turns his attention to spreading the word for poetry. As he describes his growing-up years, he had a head start.

In my home words came alive.
Our house was a Walmart of books,
Reading was our hobby, our playdate.

But since not all kids come with a home court advantage, Alexander and his teammates, Chris Colderly and Marjorie Wentworth, offer poems written in the style of famous poets such as e. e. cummings, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Nikki Giovanni, and fourteen more. Here's Wentworth, doing Dickenson:

I keep an old vase in my room
That says believing in roses make them bloom

And in the style of Robert Frost:

I have stopped to shake the dry snow
from the branches and watched the outline
of each bare tree sharpen like stone,
and consider that quite often
Life is too much like a pathless wood.

Colderly also takes a crack at Nikki Giovanni's colloquial style:

Poetry is barbecue, cotton candy,
blues, Birdland, Sunday morning gospel,
ripples on a pond.

And here he is, doing the poet Gwendolyn Brooks:

Bronzeville lads, way past cool,
Voices like butter, melting blues,
Bronzeville lads, gone too soon.

Kwame Alexander's Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (Candlewick, 2017) has a lot to offer young readers in the upper elementary and middle school years in this introduction to the wonder of words and their power. The old saying, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," is true, and enticing young people to "get" the feel of famous poems and try their hand at writing their own both introduces these poets and offers models for writing. Teachers will want a copy of this book on their own shelves as a way to introduce their students to ways of writing from the senses and from the heart. "The exercise of celebrating poets in their own voices leads naturally to the idea of the classroom writing prompt—which Colderley, writing haiku in the style of Basho, seems to anticipate: “Pens scratching paper/ Syllables counted with care/ Poets blossoming,” says Publishers Weekly.

Kwame Alexander's other books also include the free verse soccer-themed story, Booked (see review here) and the best-selling The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life. Rebound, Alexander's prequel to his Newbery winner, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April of 2018.

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