Friday, August 31, 2018

Peaceably to Assemble! If You're Going To a March by Martha Freeman


One of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship is to assemble to protest an injustice, and children may sometimes find themselves going on a march. There are several things they need to know.

You will need a sign. A recycled pizza box works well.

Check the weather. Wear sturdy, comfy shoes. Double tie your shoes. Wear sunscreen. Pack snacks and water.

There may be big crowds, music, singing, and chanting. There may be long speeches.

It's possible this part will get boring.

There may be people there who don't agree with you. They may have signs and loud chants, too.

Smile. Be polite. Sometimes democracy looks like disagreement.

Protest is patriotic.

Martha Freeman's just-published If You're Going to a March (Sterling Books, 2018) primes youngsters on the privileges and responsibilities (as my third-grade teacher put it) of citizenship in a democracy, one of which is to remain civil during the process of forming a more perfect union. Author Freeman offers pragmatic and philosophical advice to young people engaging in their first civic action, while the endearing faux naif illustrations of children and families by artist Violet Kim prepare youngsters for the sights and sounds of a citizen's march, right down to parking problems, counter protesters, loud shouts, tired feet, and rows of port-a-potties along the way. Says ""Kirkus Reviews says, "This introduction tries hard to present a neutral point of view, encouraging everyone to participate in appropriate political action."

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Stranger Among Us! E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial by Melissa Mathison

It was the week of Halloween.

Elliott wants to play fighting goblins with his brother, but Michael is not interested. So when Elliott hears a strange noise outside, he decides to do his own goblin hunting solo.

Following some very odd footprints, clearly not made by a coyote, he comes upon a creature that looks like a goblin.

It's definitely not a coyote! Elliot thinks.

But Michael and Mom put Elliott's description down to a pre-Halloween imagination. Still, the next day Elliott spots some strangers with odd equipment searching in the woods nearby, and he guesses that they are looking for that goblin he saw.

Elliot had to find the goblin first!

So Elliott leaves a strategic trail of candies from the edge of the woods to their shed and to his room. And the goblin shows at in his house. He looks friendly, so Elliott introduces him to Michael and his sister Gertie. Michael is instantly intrigued, but Gertie has one objection.

"I don't like his feet!"

Still the kids believe that their strange three-toed visitor is a stranded alien, and they all pitch in to help him get home. They show the visitor where they are on Michael's globe, and when the extra-terrestrial spots their phone, he knows what he must do to find his way home.

"Phone home!" he says.

Luckily, it is soon Halloween, when their alien looks like just another trick-or-treater, and the costumed kids help their new friend find his way back home with the help of their suddenly airborne bikes, in a picture book adaptation of the 1982 classic film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Classic Illustrated Storybook (Pop Classics) (Quirk Books, 2017). For youngsters who have not seen the famous film, this version, illustrated in simple cartoon style by Kim Smith, is not a substitute, but a good introduction of the movie, stressing the kindness of the kids and E.T., the not-so-scary alien invader. With its theme of the kindness of strangers, this story is a great one to open the emotions and imagination of young readers.

For more about this film classic, share this on with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial from Concept to Classic: The Illustrated Story of the Film and the Filmmakers, 30th Anniversary Edition (Pictorial Moviebook).

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Blame Mother Goose? Once Upon a Slime by Andy Maxwell

Once upon a time, Goldilocks visited her old friends, the Three Bears. Sure, they had gotten off to a rocky start--what with the whole porridge thing. But now everyone was totally over it.

Plus--she thought, "Who could stay mad at the girl with such beautiful golden locks?"

It's time to let bygones be bygones!

So Goldilocks decides to drop in on the Bears, but when she opens the door--


She's slimed! It's green! It's gross! It's disgusting!

Goldie blames her frenemies, the Bears, for taking revenge for her housebreaking, but when she confronts them, they deny the crime. And while they're arguing against their guilt with Goldie, it's the Three Bears who get the goopy slop dropped on them.

"YAY! A WHODUNNIT!" yells Baby Bear.

Goldie calls in Granny, who loves a mystery, and Goldie, Granny, and the Bears set out to interview the usual suspects in the neighborhood--Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, who have each other for an alibi, Rapunzel, who's not quite above it all--and all get slimed along the way. Could the Three Little Pigs be the perps? They do love muck.... But what about Prince Charming? He's got minions. Do he and Snow White have a couple thing for surprise chartreuse slime parties?

Everybody's gotta get slimed in this fractured fairy tale crime filled with familiar characters, in Andy Maxwell's fractured fairy cum mystery tale, Once Upon a Slime (Little, Brown Books, 2018), loaded with quips, puns, and snappy comebacks and illustrated in inspired cartoon style by artist Samantha Cotterill, who plants clever clues to the real perpetrator along the slime crime trail for sophisticated readers to sleuth out. Perfect for older primary readers who are on top of the trope of the fractured nursery story, this one is funny addition to the re-framed fairy tale genre. In their tongue-in-cheek review, Kirkus Reviews writes, "Cotterill's artwork—ink on watercolor paper with digitally added color—is loose and lively, and re-readers (and savvy-eyed first timers) are given hints to the real slimer."

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Time to Shine: The Dinosaur Expert by Margaret McNamara

Kimmy collected and shells and leaves and pebbles and feathers.

She even collected owl pellets.

But of all the things that Kimmy collected, fossils were her favorite.

So when Mr. Tiffin's class is scheduled for a field trip to the Natural History Museum, Kimmy knows she will be in her element.

Kimmy couldn't wait to share!

But Jake is used to thinking of himself as the class leader, the guy who knows it all, and when Kimmy volunteers all she knows about allosauruses, he challenges her right away.

"Girls aren't scientists." Jake declares definitively.

Kimmy grew quiet.

And as the class makes its way through the dinosaur exhibit, Kimmy reads the placards about the famous paleontologists of history--Edward Cope, Earl Douglass, O. C. Marsh. All men.

"See?" said Jake.

Mr. Tiffin leads them to a glass case with a small skeleton and asked if anyone knows what it was.

"Archaeopteryx, Jurassic period," whispered Kimmy.

Kimmy offers information about oviraptors sitting on their eggs to protect them, but when Mr. Tiffin asks her to tell the class all she knows about them, she glances at Jake and quietly declines.

But when Mr. Tiffin deftly steers the class to the case for a rare specimen, Gasparinisaura Cinco altensis, Kimmy reads the plaque which names the scientist who found and classified the specimen, Zulma de Gasparini--a woman! A woman dinosaur scientist!

Suddenly Kimmy speaks up, proud of what she knows and happy to share it.

"Early raptors had five fingers and later raptors had three." she said.

"How come?" asked Jake.

"They evolved," replied Kimmy. "They kept what they needed and changed what they didn't!"

And there is a bit of evolving going on in Mr. Tiffin's class, in Margaret McNamara's latest primary grade picture book, The Dinosaur Expert (Mr. Tiffin's Classroom Series) (Schwartz and Wade, 2018). With perceptive and carefully crafted narration, the author lets her characters gently evolve a new attitude about gender roles. Artist G. Brian Karas' subtle illustrations extend the author's text perfectly in the expressions of Kimmy and Jake's classmates and in their own faces as they subtly negotiate new roles for themselves. The latest book in this noted series reminds us that primary teachers teach more than just the facts. Says Kirkus in their starred review, "A pivotal moment in a child's life, handled with grace and sensitivity rather than conflict or ineffective lecturing."

This one is a worthy successor to McNamara's and Karas' deft collaboration in the Mr. Tiffin's Classroom series, How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? (Mr. Tiffin's Classroom Series) (read my review here.

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Pleistocene Sanctuary: Elephant Secret by Eric Walters

I was born and raised with elephants. My first word wasn't Daddy; it was Ella, which is what I used to call them. My father had never been much for taking pictures, but almost all the pictures of me growing up had an elephant in them. When I drew pictures of my family in school, I always included me, my father, and the rest of our herd.

Since her mother died just after her birth, thirteen-year-old Samantha has lived at their elephant sanctuary with her father and the herd. Trixie, the matriarch elephant, has been a sort of mother figure, Raja, the goofy teenager who splashes with her in the pond, is like a pesky older brother, and the rest of the females, especially Daisy Mae, are like aunts to her. Now Daisy Mae is expecting a baby in a month or so, and with school vacation ahead Sam is looking forward to spending her summer helping with a new elephant baby.

Daisy Mae's pregnancy has been closely watched because she is part of an insemination project to help boost the population of Indian elephants, funded lavishly by Jimmy Mercury, an eccentric multi-billionaire who has subsidized the sanctuary generously. But when Daisy Mae goes into a difficult labor earlier than expected, Sam finds her life turned around suddenly. Jimmy Mercury flies in two expert large-animal vets, complete with a mobile animal surgery unit, and when Daisy Mae goes into shock, it becomes urgent that the baby she is carrying must be delivered immediately by Cesarean section before Daisy dies and her unborn baby with her.

I couldn't hear Daisy Mae breathing. The two vets were practically inside the incision. "We need help!" Dr. Grace yelled. My father reached down and in his arms was a mass of wet brown matter--the baby elephant. "It's not breathing!" Dad yelled. "Get me suction!" Dr. Tavaris ordered.

All at once the baby was moving, its trunk thrashing. There was a noise, a soft chirping, a cry to let us know the baby was here and it was alive. It was wet and gray, with a fringe of red hair around its head. "It's a girl, a beautiful baby girl," my father said.

"A girl, yes," Dr. Grace said. "But I don't know about beautiful. It's a very strange-looking little elephant."

For Samantha, when the odd little baby elephant begins to suck her fingers, it is love at first sight. She gives the baby its first bottle of elephant formula, and it seems to bond with her, preferring Sam for every feeding. Because of its unusual hair, Sam names the baby Woolly, and with her attention the baby gains weight and grows rapidly.

At first totally absorbed in the little one, Sam soon notices that their peculiar benefactor Jimmy Mercury has ordered the sanctuary surrounded by armed guards at all times and the local visitors prohibited from touring to see the elephants. Samantha begins to wonder why this particular baby elephant has to be kept a secret, secluded and shielded from the public eye at all times. And then she and her father learn the truth unexpectedly from Jimmy Mercury himself.

"Her name is Woolly," I told him. "It was the perfect name. Don't you like it?"

"I like it a lot. I just didn't think you'd figure it out without me telling you." Jimmy said.

"Figure out what?" my dad asked.

"That she's not a elephant. She's a woolly mammoth."

It is an arresting plot twist, the world's first cloned woolly mammoth constructed from DNA obtained from a frozen mammoth in Siberia, in Eric Walters' Elephant Secret (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018), which changes this story of an animal-loving girl, with ordinary worries over eighth-grade dances, high school, and her father's girlfriend, into near-future science fiction. In a premise that is both futuristic and perfectly credible given the real pace of biology and the popularity of the recent Jurassic Park sequel, Walter's story will unite a wide audience with diverse preferences. And despite her awesome and fearful lineage, Woolly is a lovable baby as well as a miracle of science, a compelling character in her own right for middle readers.

Author Walters offers just enough foreshadowing to provide close readers with an inkling of what's up with this unusual baby, and there are still more exciting twists of plot ahead to keep 'tweener readers glued to the pages right to the end. With a "reveal" that will have some readers shouting, "I knew it!" and others saying, "What? Wow!", this novel is both an inventive science fiction tale and a warm human story of family relations, playing upon the parallels between humans and elephants, both big-brained mammals with complex and strong social relationships centered in family structure. With an appendix including a multimedia bibliography for readers who may want to know more about elephants, mammoths, and how DNA science is working toward the rebirth of the woolly mammoth 3500 years after its extinction, Eric Walters provides a great read and plenty for middle and young adult readers to think about.

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Small Acts: Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

Tanisha spilled grape juice yesterday. All over her new dress.

Everyone laughed.

Mom always tells me to be kind. So I tried.

I don't think it helped.

Parents and teachers and authors are always telling kids to be kind. But what does being kind actually look like? And what do you do when what you do doesn't seem to work?

Our girl rushes in to help dry Tanisha's dress and wipe up the spilled juice, but the Tanisha only dashes into the hall.

At art time our girl arranges her easel close to Tanisha, paints lots of purple splotches, and wonders if she should tell Tanisha that purple is her favorite color. It is, but what if Tanisha now hates purple? Should she offer Tanisha her extra sweat shirt to cover the purple stain? Should she spill something so that the others will laugh at her? Does misery always love company? Or would Tanisha just rather to have everyone forget about her spill as soon as possible?

"What does it mean to be kind?

It's not always easy to know how to be kind.

Some things seem like sure things. Putting dirty dishes in the sink and listening to her Aunt Franny tell the same old stories over and over again seem to be a easy choice.. Picking up litter, saying "thank you," and " bless you" to a sneezer seem safe. But sometimes...

Being kind can be hard, too.

It takes paying attention. Sometimes what seems like a good thing can be the wrong thing to do.

Maybe I can only do small things.

Pat Zietlow Miller's New York Times best-selling Be Kind (Roaring Brook Press, 2018) gets into the nitty-gritty of being kind in our daily life, while still affirming that small, sometimes random acts of kindness can create a chain reaction among people. Artist Jen Hill's sensitive illustrations extend Zietlow's text, picturing possible outcomes of the impulses to show kindliness as traveling far beyond our girl's actual daily life. "[A] lovely exploration of empathy and thoughtfulness," says School Library Journal's starred review.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Moovin' On! Animobiles: Animals on the MOOve by Maddie Frost

How does a LION travel in style?

Does his ride go VROOM! when he wants to ZOOM?

Is a ROAR in store?

Is it a LeoLimo? A LionLimo?

Racing over grassy fields
A tiger-train is on a track.
Families look out the window
As the wheels go clickety-clack!

Do monkeys prefer mopeds? Does a parrot hop a plane? Do salmon esteem submarines when they tire of swimming up those streams?

On open country roads
Cow-cars MOOOve in any weather.
They stop and go for grass,
And always stick together.

There are many options for critter transportation in Maddie Frost's Animobiles: Animals on the Mooove (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2018), with a mixture of familiar animals and vehicles to choose from. With emphasis on rhymes and alliteration for a bit of wordplay along the way, the illustrations are jolly, as befits bears in buses and bats in hot air balloons, while author-artist Frost works in various vehicles with assorted animal names as the critters stay on the go, here and there and to and fro for a bit of fun on the run.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Glad to Meet You! Hi! My Name is... How Adorabilis Got His Name by Marisa Polansky

Early one morning, when all the fish were tucked away, a new creature arrived in the deep-sea tank.

He was very tiny, with great big eyes and eight little tentacles.

As all the denizens of the deep awake, they discover their new resident. They've never seen anything like him. Filled with curiosity they gather around. Yeti Crab is first to welcome their new neighbor, and Anglerfish turns on her light to get a better look.

"I wonder what they will call you?" she inquired.

Call me?" the creature answered.

"Everyone has a name here!" said Mimic Octopus.

To demonstrate how she got her name, she shows off changing shapes to look like other creatures A big-headed fish smiled with a mouthful of sharp teeth to show why he is named Fangtooth. Six-Gill Shark shows off his six gills.

The little creature is crestfallen. He can't compare with the others. He doesn't have big orange stripes like Clown Fish, and he can't glow in the deeps like the Moon Jellyfish, and he surely can't compete with Giant Squid's size. Then he remembers something he CAN do.

"I'm an excellent parachute!"

He demonstrates how he can spread his little tentacles and float slowly down to the bottom of the tank. Still, "Parachuter" doesn't quite have the ring of the proper name the others are looking for.

Then a couple of scientists stroll by and one greets the new acquisition.

"How are you doing, Adorabilis?"

Of course! He is adorable, and Adorabilis is his new name, in Marisa Polansky's Hello, My Name Is . . .: How Adorabilis Got His Name (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018). Polansky's lighthearted look at aquarium tank wildlife introduces youngsters to the looks and behaviors of some of the diverse and curious creatures to be seen on a field trip, and this peachy pink little octopus is cute enough to live up to his scientific name of Opisthotautis adorabilis. Author Polansky offers a brief appendix in the form of a scientific note which gives further facts about this lovable-looking sea creature, and artist Joey Chou renders all the deep-sea specimens with enough realism to make them recognizable but with charm and personality that will make them memorable to young students. As Booklist puns, "Little ones will eagerly dive into this all-around adorable first glimpse at ocean fauna.”

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Robin Hood, Revisited: The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwall

Silvie's life as the privileged daughter of the Lord of Loughsley Abbey is perfect. She enjoys the luxuries of a young noblewoman, and yet her older brother John, who rules in place of their aged father, allows her to ride and hunt and run free in Woodshire Forest with her best friend, Robin, called Bird, son of the Huntswoman of the manor. But when Silvie learns that the Abbey's healing nun, Mae Tuck, has been jailed for ministering to the pregnant Little Jane, she begins to see the suffering that lies behind her easy life.

"See. Silvie, it's not your brother John you are defending. It's your family. It's yourself," said Bird. "You want to believe that you are not complicit in this, in all the ugly things nobles do."

I looked back at Little Jane, pale and trembly, and I knew that I'd never done anything in my life that wasn't at least partly selfish.

Silvie suddenly sees the injustice of her brother John's rule. As sheriff of the shire, he sets burdensome taxes on all, tradesmen and farmers, and anyone who crosses him is imprisoned or cast into his grim oubliette to starve to death on the decaying bodies and bones of those already dead. With Bird by her side, she frees Mae Tuck and Little Jane, and they escape to their secret cave deep in Woodshire Forest.

They survive by Robin's ability to trap small animals and the prey his falcon brings to them. But they are soon followed by more and more of the townspeople of Esting. The colony of runaways thrives, helped by Silvie's midnight raids on the larders of Loughsley Abbey and confiscations of valuables from occasional nobles traveling through the forest. Little Jane's baby comes, the first freeborn citizen of their commune, and Silvie and Bird's benevolent rule continues to attract more followers to their colony. So successful are they that Silvie mounts a daring raid on John's ill-gotten treasury and distributes the bounty to the suffering people of the whole county round.

But Bird and Silvie grow too confident. Disguised, the men dressed as women and the women as men, they attend the May Day festival, only to return to their forest home to find that John has attacked the colony and set their trees and houses ablaze. Most of their friends are dead, and Bird and Silvie are captured by John and thrown into his grisly oubliette to starve. Days pass and both grow almost too weak to stand.

Then Silvie is visited by what she first takes for an angel. But it is her hunting owl, Scarlet, floating down from the small opening in the ceiling of the dungeon above.

... there was a small and tightly rolled piece of paper. One line. I knew the handwriting. Mae Tuck.

We are coming. Take heart.

Sophisticated young adult readers will soon recognize Betsy Cornwall's The Forest Queen (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018) as an inspired and inspiring feminist rewrite of the Robin Hood legend. Like the original, it is a passionate statement of the cause of freedom from tyranny, but Cornwall's gender reversal puts feminine characters in the familiar roles of Little John, Alan-a-Dale, and Friar Tuck. Silvie and Bird (Robin) share aspects of the role of Robin Hood, but it is clearly Silvie who is chief of this merrie band in the greenwood, and, humorously, even Will Scarlet and Much-the-miller's-son appear as female owls. Stirring adventures led by girls and women are now a staple of movies and novels, but Cornwell's novel makes clear the association of personal liberty, the theme of the Robin Hood legend, with a women's right to choose her own social role in society.

While this novel stands well on its own, its reading will be enriched by knowledge of the Robin Hood legend. Howard Pyle's strikingly illustrated The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Digireads, 2017) remains the gold standard for lusty Robin Hood tales, although Roger Lancelyn Green's colloquial The Adventures of Robin Hood (Puffin Classics) is more accessible for middle readers.

And for girls who prefer a female leader, Nancy Springer's Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest (Rowan Hood (Paperback)) offers another feminist alternative as the crusading outlaw heroine (read my review here), full of medieval flavor and with a bold charismatic feminine hero, Robin Hood's daughter Rowan. But where Rowan is a solitary heroine with few followers, Betsy Cornwall's Forest Queen Sylvie is a social reformer who rouses the poor to help overthrow the rule of her brother John, the parallel character to Pyle's Black John, whose cruel rule in the absence of his brother King Richard ended in the signing of the Magna Carta. Told in the first person, Silvie's metamorphosis from pampered noblewoman to a brave and able spokesperson for equality becomes central. All readers will find Cornwall's new queen of the greenwood a powerful and sympathetic hero for our time and all times.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Like Salt and Pepper! Melia and Jo by Billie Aronson

Melia loved science. Measuring. Testing. Reading. Observing. Testing again.

In her backyard lab, attired in a pilot's helmet and tall boots, Melia (short for Amelia Earhart) patiently follows the scientific method, observing, experimenting, testing her hypothesis, evaluating, testing again... But...

Most of Melia's creations weren't finished.

The head of her robot keeps falling off and her paper airplane design fails to fly.

Suddenly Melia hears some strange sounds from next door. The sounds were clearly coming from the new girl, who was yelling, whirling, and twirling over the fence.

"I'm Jo!" she said. "But you can call me Jojo. Or Josephine. Or Jo Jo Jo on the Go, Go, Go!"

"You can call me Melia," said Melia.

JoJo flits from one invention to the next, clamping Melia's upside-down colander with antenna on her head, helping herself to a licorice stick, and tossing Melia's paper plane into an unfortunate trajectory. Only a strategic dive by Amelia prevents her plane from nosediving into a mud puddle.

"Too bad your plane doesn't fly like the fluff on a dandelion," JoJo said, demonstrating with a big puff.

Jojo pokes the rest of the licorice stick into the neck of Melia's headless robot, and with a flying jete', skips back into her own yard. Melia sighs with relief as she tries to restore order in her lab. But she can't help making some observations. The licorice stick holds her robot's head on its body better than anything she's tried. The upside-down colander makes a perfect combination portable radio (and sunhat), if you think about it, and with a straw added, a puff of breath makes her plane at last soar on its solo flight.

Melia was shocked. "Jo is a genius!

Can we be a team, Jo? Please....!

"No deal-ya, Melia!" replies Jo.

She turns away and leaps high into a grand tour jete'.

But JoJo is surprised to find that her leap lands her high in a tree. Now it's Melia's turn to think outside the box.

And Melia has just the expansion contraption to extract JoJo from her perch, and both girls have a mutual eureka moment when they realize they are better together, in Billy Aronson's Melia and Jo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). Art plus science! A + STEM = STEAM, and together they are the DREAM TEAM. Aronson even appends hands-on directions for readers to create their own breath-powered paper airplane.

It's a celebration of collaboration in Billy Aronson's story of an odd couple of diverse friends who work together like bacon and eggs, peanut butter and jelly, and creativity and reason. Author Aronson, who helped create the Broadway show "Rent" and wrote for the show "The Wonder Pets," "Beevis and Butthead," and "Peg + Cat," collaborates well with his teammate on "The Wonder Pets," artist Jennifer Oxley, the Emmy-winning director of the animated series "Little Bill," "The Wonder Pets," and "Peg + Cat."

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Common Ground! Just Like Us! Plants by Bridget Heos

Did you know that a plant's leaves communicate? Plants also wear perfume... and cunning disguises. They even wage war, using armor and weapons.

Read on to learn all about our bodacious botanical friends--and how they're just like us.

Sure, plants make their own food by photosynthesis from sunlight, while people have to find lunch if they want to munch.

But some plants also crave meat, or what passes for meat if you are a Venus fly trap, which draws dinner with its sweet scent and chomps down on delicious fly burgers. Even more disgusting is the dead meat stink given off by the horse arum lily, which draws flies by the droves. They crawl into the lily, where they to come to their own dead end.

People get oxygen through respiration and lose water by perspiration, but plants lose water by transpiration. Yes, plants sweat, sort of!

One of the tallest trees on Earth, The Eucalyptus regnans, loses hundred of gallons per day through transpiration. The water comes up through the roots to the topmost leaves--as high as 325 feet. That's a tall drink of water.

And while some plants generously shade other plants to help them save water, others like the Australian Christmas tree are more like the Grinch, sending their roots out to tap other plants' roots and stealing sap for themselves. And then there's, not the Giving Tree, but the taking tree, the strangler fig, which takes over other trees as scaffolds to give their own leaves a place in the sun.

And when it comes to reproduction, plants dress themselves up for the prom, making themselves attractive to pollinators with bright colors, seductive perfumes, and sweet nectar aperatifs. And when it comes to their offspring, their seeds, plants can be pretty clever in giving them a good start in life. Some hide their seeds in tasty fruits, inviting animals to spread them widely. Some are like Velcro, hitching a ride on the more mobile animals' fur. Coconuts even go for cruises, floating on the seas until they drift to islands that need palm trees, and many plants have airborne seeds who soar into the friendly skies in the form of helicopters and parachutes to waft to fertile spots.

And as for warfare... Plants mount defense forces in the form of spines and thorns and prickles and poisons to fight off enemies. Beware!

In her latest in the Just Like Us series, Bridget Heos' Just Like Us! Plants (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) points to the ways in which all lifeforms are similar, slipping in serious botanical facts with great humor and an easy, breezy style. As in the other books in this series, David Clark's comic artwork is filled with jolly sight gags, anthropomorphic plants which spritz themselves with perfume atomizers and coconuts with suitcases and sunglasses cruising the high seas. Together Heos and Clark provide a lively but well-organized book, making for a tasty way for youngsters to learn botany painlessly. This is a worthy addition to the series and a first purchase for school and public libraries.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Even One Voice: Free As a Bird: The Story of Malala by Lina Maslo

When Malala was born, people sighed and said,"Too bad...." They whispered, "... a girl! What bad luck."

But her father looked into her eyes and fell in love.

Although many people in Pakistan believed that girls did not need an education, Malala's father was headmaster of a school for boys and girls, and Malala began her school days early, sitting and listening as her father taught the older children, and it soon became clear that she was a very talented student.

But she also learned that in Pakistan women did not have the rights offered to males.

They had to hide their faces. They were expected to marry young and have children.

But Malala's father saw that she was as intelligent as her brothers and resolved that she should get the same education and choose what she did with her own life. But the Taliban, who had taken over their province, disapproved of female education and forced many of the schools open to girls to be shuttered. Malala's father managed to send her to a school open to girls, but one day their bus was attacked by the Taliban and Malala almost died.

But Malala and her family did not give up. She continued to study in England and finished her education there, but she did not give up working and speaking for the right to education for girls everywhere. She spoke to prime ministers  and parliaments and queens and international organizations. She became the world's youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.

"I speak for all girls and boys and their right to be educated.

One child, one teacher, one book can change the world."

Lina Maslo's Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala (Balzer and Bray, 2018) is an excellent introduction for primary students to the early life of Malala Yousafzai, the heroine of universal education for all. Author Maslo's prose narrative is simple but moving, and artist Maslo's striking illustrations build tension as Malala struggles to elude the Taliban who would keep her, faceless and without a voice, at home. Artist Maslo uses color symbolically, a double page spread, a slash of red and black to portray the nearly fatal Taliban attack, and red to associate her triumph to be "free as a bird" to follow her dreams. All in all, this book is an emotionally effective way to convey the importance of personal freedom and the quest for education for all that Malala Yousafzai has come to represent.

For young scholars doing their first biography book reports, Maslo offers an appendix with author's note, a timeline, a brief summary of Yousafzai's role in education, and a list of media resources which includes books, films, and websites.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

It's Not the End of the World, Or, Remain Calm and Carry On! OOPSIE-DO! by Tim Kubart

Talk about having a bad day!

All is cheery as Dad, with baby in sling and preschooler in tow, sets out to deliver them to daycare and preschool. But once she's there, this little girl's day is all downhill. It's her turn to feed the classroom goldfish, but she spills the fish food all over the floor. No way she can put that flaky stuff back in the can. What to do?


The kids pitch in! With a broom, a dustpan, and a handy trash can, it's spit-spot and soon forgot.

But Murphy's law is in effect still. If something can go wrong, it will.

At art time, just as she completes her yellow submarine, the blue paint runs and turns it green. OOPS!

There's nothing for it but to turn her realistic picture into an expressionist statement of the essence of the sea.

Chasing a ball, she takes a fall. At snack time, she pulls out her treat and it falls at her feet! What does she do?


When it's time to go, she mis-be-buttons her coat, but that's easily fixed. But when she lets the puppy with muddy feet squeeze in through the front door, she can't take back the tracks. But her smile doesn't stop as she reaches for the mop.

But the day's not over yet! The baby flings spaghetti and it lands on her Teddy. The toothpaste misses the toothbrush, but lands squarely on her PJs. But, hey, that's okay; it's a flub-the-dub day, and at last it's over--



As the English say, "Remain calm and carry on," and our girl does, to the recurring refrain of "Ooopsie-Do," in songwriter Tim Kubart's new picture book for those who make big boo-boos, Oopsie-do! (Harper, 2018). With the downloadable song with this book, preschool kids can learn to to meet life's little screw-ups with a smile and a sing-along moment. Artist Lori Richmond's illustrations are perky and cute and have plenty of appeal to kids who should know that their turn to mess up is bound to show up sooner or later.

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Shut-Eye Time! YAWN! Grumpy Cat, A Grumpy Cat Bedtime Story by Steve Foxe



It's that odd couple of cats again--Little Kitten, who can't say anything without an exclamation point, and Grumpy Cat, who can't say anything without a grimace.

Little Kitten is ebullient, ardent, and keen on everything.

Grumpy Cat is curmudgeonly, contrarian, and recalcitrant about anything.

Little Kitten drags Grumpy Cat through the whole miserable bedtime routine--bathtub toys and floods of suds, perky look-alike pajamas, and especially the obligatory bedtime story.


But Little Kitten's begging results in a grudging compromise from Grumpy Cat:




Grumpy Cat is back in his third storybook for youngsters, in Steve Foxe's Yawn! A Grumpy Cat Bedtime Story (Grumpy Cat) (Little Golden Book) (Golden Books, 2018 ). Grumpy's reaction to everything is a virtual YAWN, and bedtime with Grumpy Cat is predictably no sweet snooze in this latest little tale, illustrated appropriately in drab and dusky shades by Steph Laberis. Other books in the Grumpy cat series include A Is for Awful: A Grumpy Cat ABC Book (Grumpy Cat) (Little Golden Book), Grumpy Cat's First Worst Christmas (Grumpy Cat) (Big Golden Book) and The Little Grumpy Cat that Wouldn't (Grumpy Cat) (Little Golden Book).

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Back to School: On the First Day of Kindergarten by Tish Rabe

It can be scary, going off to the first day of "big school,"and it is important that youngsters know what's going to happen on that important day.

On the first day of Kindergarten I thought it was so cool.

Making lots of friends,
Riding the bus to my school.

Not all kids take the bus, but all of them come to that moment when they and their parents wave goodbye, and they are on their own, but not alone. And in Tish Rabe's jolly sing-along version based on "The first day of Christmas," On the First Day of Kindergarten (Harper, 2018) new students get a preview of school days to come, singing their way through the doings in the first twelve days of school.

Rabe's varied classmates chat excitedly on the bus, and Rabe's young Kindergartner, with her ladybug backpack, twists around in her seat to see the other riders as the bus pulls up to the school, where they are greeted and led into their classroom by their teacher, and their first day begins.

Soon the various touseled-haired moppets are busy doing new things, and adding each new day's events to their song.

On the sixth day of Kindergarten,
I thought it was so cool....

Sliding down the slide,
Singing a song,
Running in a race,
Counting up to ten,
making lots of friends,
and riding my bus to school!

And there are plenty more activities to come, with chances for all sorts of students to shine--painting at easels, laughing together at lunch, and learning new skills in gym--in the days to come in this cheery sneak preview of the opening days of Kindergarten recounted in author Rabe's familiar rhymes and rhythm and artist Laura Hughes' cute ink, watercolor, and digital illustrations of all kinds of kids making messes and working hard at their lessons.

Share this one with the classics, Natasha Wing's The Night Before Kindergarten and Joseph Slate's look at first days from the teacher's point of view, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten (Miss Bindergarten Books (Paperback)).

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Pet Ban! No Frogs in School by A. LaFaye

Bartholomew Botts loved pets.

Bart's room at home is a messy menagerie melee! He has dogs, several species of poultry, a caged canary, a tortoise in his drawer, a cat curled up in a fishbowl, and a fish in an aquarium. He's even got barnyard denizens, two goats, a pig, chicks, and a bunny, and a green snake lives in his bedside table.

So it's no surprise that when he starts to school, he takes a pet along to his classroom.

Bartholomew plopped Ferdinand the frog in his cool pink lunchbox.

But that day, while their teacher is showing his class how to mix secondary colors in art, Ferdinand hops into Lacey's paints and lands with a splat on Mr. Patanoose's head. Face-painting is not in his lesson plan--and Mr. Patanoose proclaims a new school rule.

"No frogs in school!" he declares.

Still, Bartholomew has other pets to take to school with him that are NOT frogs. But on Tuesday Sigfried the salamander goes woo-woo on the teacher's shoe, and he rules out all amphibians at school. On Wednesday Bartholomew brings Horace the hamster, definitely a mammal, along, but his speedy scurrying turns Mr. Patanoose's class into mess of squealing, chasing kids. Rodents are banned for Bart, but he still has Sylvia the snake to take along on Thursday, and when she slithers up toward the ceiling, the group goes wild!

Mr. Patanoose doesn't look happy.

"No more of YOUR pets!" he declares.

Not since Mary brought her little lamb to school has a classroom had so much fun with pets, and the literal-minded Bartholomew finds a way to liven up show-and-tell day with a pet for the whole classroom, in A. LaFaye's No Frogs in School (Sterling Books, 2018). It's a fun first week of school, with the author deftly working in a bit of biological vocabulary, while artist Eglantine Coulemans' illustrations visually extend the text and outdo the cuteness quotient in her comic line drawings of the lanky Mr. Patanoose, his vivacious and varied preschoolers, and charming critters mixing it up. Kirkus Reviews adds, "Each page lends itself to an energetic seek-and-find storytime that promises new discoveries upon multiple reads."

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Any Port In A Storm! The Green Umbrella by Jackie Azua Kramer

One rainy day, Elephant was taking a walk with his green umbrella.

Along came a hedgehog. "Excuse me," said Hedgehog. "I believe you have my boat."

"Your WHAT?" said Elephant.

Hedgehog explains that in an upside-down umbrella he actually sailed the deepest oceans, guided by the stars, and met many fine friends.

"I am sure you are mistaken. This is my umbrella," said Elephant.

But politely Elephant agrees that umbrellas can play several roles and offers Hedgehog a place under his to keep dry. The two walk on amiably, until they meet a cat, who also seems to have a claim on Elephant's green umbrella.

"Excuse me. I believe you have my tent!" says Cat.

Elephant graciously agrees that umbrellas lend themselves to many uses, adding that he has often used his umbrella as a pretend pirate sword, and invites Cat to join them underneath it.

In due course Elephant meets up with Bear and Rabbit, who also insist the the umbrella is their flying machine and walking cane respectively. The mannerly Elephant demurs, but invites them to seek shelter under his umbrella, and the five of them enjoy their walk, sharing their exciting exploits as they go.

The rain ends, and Elephant finds plenty of kindred souls and rainy-day fellow travelers to share snacks and shade under his big bumbershoot, in Jackie Azua Kramer's brand new The Green Umbrella(North/South Books, 2018), which ends, as all rainy day stories should, with a sunny good time for a bunch of new friends. Author Kramer takes her readers along under the big green umbrella for some flights of fancy under its shelter, very ably assisted by the exotic landscapes in appropriately watery vistas conjured up by artist Mara Sossouni. As Publishers Weekly sums it all up: "Kramer’s storytelling passages sustain their lofty tone with no off notes—no easy task."

Great for rainy-day read-alouds, along with Amy June Bates' The Big Umbrella. (Read review here.)

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Somefin in Common! Just Like Us! Fish by Bridget Heos

Humans live up in the air and fish live down in the water. We walk; they swim.

So how could we be anything alike? Well, did you know fish can be doting parents and good teammates? Or that they go to the spa, where they are pampered by other fish?

They use weapons to hunt and armor to protect themselves. Some fish even use lures to, well, go fishing!

Sure, some fish lay their eggs and swim away. But the daddy seahorse carries the eggs in his pouch, and even after the little ones hatch, they still nap and take refuge back inside their safe place. And cichlid parents keep their eggs inside their large mouths, and when the small fry hatch, they still pack themselves (like sardines in a can) inside when something scary cruises by.

And it's Ah! the Spa! for the toothy barracuda, who remains perfectly still so that a little swarm of wrasses can remove parasites from their scaly bodies. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and the little fish get lunch and protection for their work. In fact, if one happens to nip the big guy, the boss wrasse chases them away as if to say...

"What are you doing? That was one of our best customers!"

Some species are not so sanguine about their fellow fish. The angler fish sports his own fishing pole, with a fat, tasty-looking blob dangling to fool the gullible, and the stoplight loosejaw flashes red and green lights to lure prey to be his lunch.

Sometimes well-schooled, small fish find safety in numbers, swimming en masse to daze and confuse their predators. And some fish come with considerable offensive and defensive arms and armor: the warrior swordfish, the sawfish, the prickly porcupine fish, and the electric catfish come equipped like medieval warriors. Young halibut don't sport weapons, but the small fry know how to make the best of one neighborhood bully that nobody messes with--the jellyfish--hiding among its tentacles when a predator comes in sight. Nanna-nanna-boo boo! Can't catch me!

And for the salmon, there's no place like home, heading back to the old homeplace for the family reunion every year.

Bridget Heos' new entry in her nonfiction series, Just Like Us! Fish (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) shows the many ways the fishes imitate people (or maybe we imitate them) to thrive under the sea. Artist Dave Clark has a lot of fun with his comic illustrations of fish making like humans, with plenty of visual humor on each double-page spread. Author Heos appends a handy glossary (Say What?), a bibliography, and a list of web articles for young piscine experts to polish up their science reports like pros.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Wandering the Water Cycle: Ice Boy by David Ezra Stein

What does an ice cube worry about most?

Ice Boy has a cozy homelife with his parents and siblings in the freezer. Everyone has his or her own cubicle, however compact, but still he wonders what's next.

Mom and Dad say someday each of them will be "chosen," serving to cool a frosty drink, or if they are special enough, to chill a medicinal ice bag. But an epicurean ending, clinking in an iced cocktail, or an altruistic outcome, cooling a cold compress, don't really fire Ice Boy's imagination.

He decides waiting to be "taken" is not cool.

Ice Boy wanted more.

Even though his parents said "Never go outside" and the doctor always said, "Stay out of the sun," Ice Boy went outside.

Ice Boy went to the beach. He rolled right up to the edge of the water and rolled right in.

He feels different already!

"My edges are beginning to blur! " He was ... becoming...Water Boy! "Best day ever!"

Water boy rides the waves up onto the beach and soaks a beach towel. It's hot and he begins to steam! And then he begins to feel light-headed as he starts to rise up and up above the beach.

He was ... becoming.. Vapor Boy!

But then things begin to happen fast. He feels denser and finds himself part of a rapidly forming thunderhead. He rises higher and higher, as below him lightning flashes and thunder rolls. It's freezing up there, and he finds himself quite icy. He's Ice Boy once more, but this time he's round and heavy. And then he's dropping, dropping, down, down... until...


Clink! "Ice Boy! Is that YOU?" said his father. "You're a sight for sore ICE!"

Ice Boy finds himself floating in a fizzy drink with his family, and he has just begun to tell them all about his journey, when the person tosses his left-over ice out on the grassy lawn. His parents are afraid.

"Where will we go?" they lament.

"Let's find out!" said Ice Boy.

David Ezra Stein's little trip through changes in physical states, Ice Boy (Candlewick Press, 2018) is a wry look at the the water cycle, a comic-strip version of that favorite primary science topic that kids will find intriguing. Told in quip-filled speech balloons, Stein's watery stick figures are about as expressive as ice cubes can be, with some punny wordplay that adds to the fun of the whole science lesson, not to mention a slyly comic parable of life's changes. Kirkus Reviews coolly sums it all up: "An allegory for breaking away from the mold, the story doubles as a light lesson on the water cycle."

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Bottomless Joy! Grandma's Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Today my Grandma Mimi is coming to visit.

When Mimi comes over, she always has new treasures to share.

And no matter what, they come from inside her purse.

Grandma Mimi believes in being prepared for any exigency.

"You never know what you'll want to have with you!" Mimi says.

Mimi's got it all in that purse. It's kind of like a magical cornucopia--a regular Santa Claus's pack to her granddaughter!

She has a little mirror to make sure she looks her best, and extra earrings, just in case she feels like fancying up her look during the day. She's got her "smell-good" spray, some hairpins, the scarf of many uses, Grandfather's coin purse that holds memories as well as nickels, her funny old phone with no photos, just friends' numbers, and, of course, something sweet for those times when you need a treat--like sit-still-at-sermon-time at church.

But today, her granddaughter finds something else in there--a purse of her own. Joyfully, she wraps herself in Grandma's scarf, dons her big sunglasses and beads, and struts her stuff with her new carryall.

Grandmas come in all sorts and so do their purses. Some are sleek clutches, and some are stylish leather handbags with intricate closings. Some are businesslike briefcases, some are youthful knapsacks of the fringed persuasion. Some are recklessly stuffed reticules or totes, not unlike a hobo's sack, bristling with knitting needles or a laptop, a box of dog treats, or sweets for the sweet. No matter what kind it is, Grandma's purse is almost magical, because it is as big as her heart, in Vanessa Brantley-Newton's Grandma's Purse (Random House, 2018). Brantley-Newton's salute to grandmothers celebrates all the wisdom and the ways that grandparents enrich a child's life, while her fantastically ebullient illustrations bespeak the joy that grandparents bring.

Says the New York Times Review, "... a tribute to the steadying force of grandparental love in a child's life... No illustrator does clothes, decor, and style better than Brantley-Newton."

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