Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Water's Fine! Llama Llama Learns to Swim by Jana Dewdney

It's summertime and Llama Llama and friends--Gilroy Goat, Euclid Lamb, and Nelly Gnu, outfitted in brand-new swimsuits, are visiting Luna Giraffe's backyard pool. Luna suddenly gets an idea.


Immediately Nelly notices that Llama Llama is looking nervous at the prospect, and despite her assurance that it'll be a blast, Llama's not so sure.

That night he tell Mama Llama about his fears. He can't really swim without his floaties, and the ocean beach is really big and different from a backyard pool.

Mama Llama tells him it's okay to worry about not being able to swim. It is a big deal, but it's one they can handle. Mama arranges for a visit to a friend's pool where she can give little Llama some private lessons where his friends can't see him sink!.

And when Llama can make some progress across the pool solo, his friends decide they could polish up their skills a bit before taking on the beach, too.

And then there's a special new student who asks to get in on the Mama Llama's swim lessons, too!



And soon Llama Llama and Grandpa Llama are ready to hit the beach together, in Llama Llama Learns to Swim (Penguin/Random House, 2019). The new Netflix television star is no longer a newbie by the sea, and Mama Llama has two new swimmers for their day by the sea, in this new one in the spirit of Anna Dewdney's loved and lovable character. Kids who are not quite ready for the big pool or the ocean beach scene will see Llama Llama conquering his fears and learning step by step to handle himself in the water in a way that will help get youngsters in the swim.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Fresh Start: Fresh Princess by Denene Miller

Destiny likes lots of things that princesses like.

Puffy and sparkly shoes. Shiny crowns.

Her princess throne.

But will Destiny still be a princess in her new kingdom, er, neighborhood?

In her old neighborhood, she has lots of friends who love to be pretend princesses. They all like to do the same things together.

But will Destiny find a kingdom in their new home?

Dad tries to help. He shows her the subway, her own royal carriage that whisks her all over their kingdom. The buildings are like tall monuments to climb and watch their subjects below.
Destiny waves and blows kisses.

But still she aches for home.

Then she spots a kids playing double-Dutch jump rope and they invite her to hop right in. At first Destiny is shy, but her brother reminds her that she's a Princess, and she joins the game, in Denene Miller's new Fresh Princess (Harper, 2019).  Moving to a new place is always hard to do, but author Miller softens the experience with a tour of her character's new kingdom, brightened by Gladys Jose's jolly illustrations of an appealing city neighborhood.


Friday, June 28, 2019

Imagine The Possibilities! Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins


Summer time is the time. School is out and there is time to imagine a special place, a home, a hideout, high and hidden by thousands of leaves--a treehouse!

There are all kinds of trees--sappy pine trees, gnarly live oaks, rustling maples, oaks with scratchy bark and strong limbs. But...

A treehouse needs a floor, for sure, perhaps a roof, and, of course...

Other options include a sleeping bag for when the breeze is cool and of course, stacks of snacks, some good books, and sometimes some friends to share it all with.

But it all begins with a tree and and imagination, in Carter Higgin's Everything You Need for a Treehouse (Chronical Books, 2018), a book that portrays that place of their own that is a sort of rite of passage for young children, when climbing skills and imagination come together to create that personal space of their own. Whether it is a prefabricated tree house from the building supply store or a homemade platform crafted from leftover odd lumber, it is a beginning--a product of opportunity and ingenuity and inspiration--one of those things that humans have in abundance.

 Artist Emily Hughes' elegant imaginings of tree houses of all varieties act as further flights of fancy for design. From a simple wide branch with shelf to an elaborate multi-level structure, treehouses are fun to imagine, even if you really never get to build one. "One magical, impossible treehouse after another!" says the Wall Street Journal."

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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Passing the Baton! Harold and Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat and Mo Willems






Harold and Hog are great admirers of Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books and they think they have found one! And inside the book, there are their role models--Gerald the Elephant and Piggie, inviting them inside.

Gerald gives Harold some glasses, just like his, and Piggie gives Hog a cuter, pinker, piggier nose, and the two amateurs are ready to do impersonations of their heroes.



But subbing for Elephant and Piggie does NOT come easy. It takes more than a bit of costuming to get inside those iconic characters.

Hog finds Piggie's devil-may-care attitude hard to assume. Smiling and dancing... and flying? Eeek!

Harold finds that he has far too much sang-froid to act timid like Gerald.

The two would-be impersonators look at each other. Are they failures at playing Gerald and Piggie? Then Harold has a happier thought. Maybe they do have the right stuff for their roles after all.

And here comes Pigeon!

And in the new partnership of Mo Willems and the noted author-illustrator Dan Santat, Harold and Hogi are metafictionally launched into Elephant and Piggie, THE SEQUEL, in the new Elephant and Piggie Like Reading! Harold and Hog Pretend For Real! series (Disney Hyperion, 2019). It's quite a tour-de-force for the two power author-illustrators to audition new characters to take over the franchise, especially when the personalities of Harold and Hog and Gerald and Piggie are switched, with Hog being the play-it-safe character and Harold the Elephant being the daring, flight-of-fancy leader, but with Santat's artistic skill in characterization, Hog and Harold make quite a talented pair of comic best buddies, too. Says Kirkus Reviews, "A hoot for readers who already know Elephant and Piggie... with the frame story contributed by Mo Willems, Santat creates yet another early reader that is at once playful, self-aware, and perceptive in its exploration of the differences of personalities and the complications (or simplicities) of friendship."

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

"Tear Down That Wall!" There's a Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

Once upon a time all the animals roamed all across the land, the kingdom of their own book, wherever they wanted to go. But then...


It was a strong, brick wall, and the large Gorilla and Rhino, Tiger and Crocodile, and Ogre with his club could not get over the tall wall.

On the other side a small knight smiled as, with trowel and mortar, he built the wall as tall as he could reach. And then he fetched a tall ladder and climbed up to add even more bricks to the top of his wall. He peered over the wall at the animals on the other side.

They were big and scary, and the crocodile appeared rather dangerous. But the little knight smiled a bigger smile...

But while the knight at the top of the tall ladder looks over at the other side, slowly but surely, his kingdom begins to fill with water. Unbeknownst to the little knight, the water level rises up toward his feet on the ladder.

Finally the little knight looks down.


The tall wall that is supposed to protect his side is trapping him in the rising flood. Can the big animals help the Ogre reach over the wall for the necessary rescue? In this little tale of the perils of isolationism, of course they can, in John Agee's funny modern fable, The Wall in the Middle of the Book (Dial Books, 2018). "Things are not always what they seem," in author-illustrator Agee's story of a widening world view, and his cartoon style illustrations tell the tale visually in his noted artistic style. Says Publishers Weekly, "As ever, Agee nails pacing and punch lines, making inventive use of the famous fourth wall as a literary device."

Agee's other noted works include Life on Mars and Lion Lessons (see review here).

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Getting in the Swim! Nugget and Fang Go to School by Tammi Sauer

Whenever the other fish in the sea saw Fang, they'd panic.

"Don't worry, guys!" called Nugget. "Fang's a vegetarian."

Most fish never stuck around long enough to find out for sure.

First days are hard. Everyone feels like a fish out of water on the first day of school, and for a big, toothy shark, it's certainly a different kettle of fish!

Still, little Nugget and his friends the Mini-Minnows are eager for Fang to matriculate with them at Mini-Minnows Elementary.

But this kind of school is new to Fang. His teeth are chattering.
"I think I'm seasick!"

But his buddy Nugget grabs him by a fin and pulls him inside to introduce him to their teacher, Mrs. Crab.
"She looks crabby!" whispers Fang.

And Fang's first day-jitters are not helped when he feels like a shipwreck at reading. He's a bottom feeder at math, he sinks at science, he's not smart at art, he flounders in music, and then it's time for show-and-tell! Fang feels like a failure with nothing to show off, until he looks at Nugget's big smile.

Then Fang finds he has one thing to brag about--

From preschool to post-grad, first days mean learning to swim with a new school, and Tammi Sauer's funny, finny undersea story of first-day jitters, Nugget and Fang Go to School (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2019), will help young readers take the bait, so to speak, as they prepare to put a toe into new waters. Artist Michael Slack is back to provide the cool undersea illustrations for this latest Nugget and Fang story to help young readers prepare to take the plunge into elementary education.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Getting to "YES:" What Are You Doing, Benny? by Cary Fagan

"Hey, Benny! What are you doing? Building a fort?

I'm really good at building forts. So can I help, Benny?"

"No," said Benny

Little Brother can't catch a break. Benny, happily painting in his tree fort, turns him down flat.

Little Bro persists, pointing out that he's perfectly prepared to make forts, or potions, or paper airplanes to fly from on high, but Benny ignores all offers. Benny mounts his bike and, declining to watch how fast his brother can pedal, rides off solo.

Not to be left behind, Little Brother offers to join Benny is drawing cats, lying on the grass and looking up at the sky, and sharing one of Benny's fabulous lunch creations.
"You make the best sandwiches in the world!"

Benny declines to make two sandwiches and moves on to strumming his guitar. Little Brother starts to make up lyrics to go with the tune.
"When Benny makes a joke, it's really funny...

And I would give him all my money...."

Benny gets good and grumpy.

Then Little Brother decides to make his own fun. He goes to his room and closes the door. He sets up his marionette stage and pulls out his cast of hand puppets. Time flies as he forgets all about Benny--until, surprisingly, his big brother appears at his door with his basketball.
"Want to watch me shoot hoops?" Benny offers.

"No, thanks!"

It's the old Tom Sawyer trick and it works, as Benny soon joins his little brother in his puppet performance with gusto--and with a special sandwich, to boot, in Cary Fagan's clever tale of turnabout is fair play, What Are You Doing, Benny? (Tundra Books, 2019). This just-published collaboration, pointedly and piquantly illustrated in panels and full-page spreads by artist Kady MacDonald Denton, provides a happy and humorous ending to an oh-so-common sibling situation.

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Best Wishes! Make a Wish, Henry Bear by Liam Francis Walsh

Henry's got a parent problem.

You've heard of free-range kids? Henry's got free-range parents.

It was the night before Henry's birthday. He pulled the covers up to his nose.

"Can't you stay up a little longer?" asked Mama Bear. "Just ten more minutes?" begged Papa Bear. "Pleeeeease?"\

"Fine," said Henry with a sigh. "Ten minutes, but that's all!"

Hanry's parents take him outside into the night and urge him to climb high and higher in the backyard tree.


Rubbing his bruised backside, Henry turns down Papa's offer to push him really high on the swing or Mama's pitch for a midnight family bike ride.

Henry is tired and cranky the next morning. It's a school day, but his breakfast is chocolate cake--again! His parents urge him to skip school and watch TV on the sofa in pajamas with them.
"But I have to go to school!" said Henry.

"Boring," says Mama Bear. "Take some toys."

At lunchtime, Henry is frowning into his lunch box when the new girl, Marjani, sits down beside him.
"I've never seen someone with a slice of chocolate cake look so unhappy," she said.

Henry confesses the whole story. It's his birthday, and on his last birthday he'd wished for fun parents who let him eat cake anytime, stay up too late, and skip his homework. But Henry has come to regret that wish. It's a cut-and-dried case of too much of a good thing!
"Tonight, when I blow out my candles, I'm going to wish them back the way they were, he said."

Henry invites Marjani to his party, but that night there's no chocolate cake with candles for his birthday. Mama Bear has decided a great big bowl of candy is just the thing for this birthday dinner!

But in some skillful storytelling, Liam Francis Walsh's Make a Wish, Henry Bear (Roaring Book Press, 2019) makes the case for the old saw, "Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it!" Luckily, Marjani comes through with the perfect birthday gift, a cupcake--with candle--and Henry gets to make a wiser birthday wish after all in a clever twist on turnabout parenting. Walsh's charming illustrations provide a quaint setting that adds a nice folklorish touch to this otherwise contemporary lesson on learning to wish well and wisely. Says Kirkus Reviews, "Readers will hope to see more of Henry Bear."

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Possibilities! What If? by Sandra Magsamen


There are all kinds of ways of being different! You could have one blue eye and one green eye!

You could be big and orange with a tufted tail. Or what if you had very interesting spots and a very long neck?

Or what if you were gray and had a big trunk? Or what if you were gray and very, very small?

What if your quiet ways made you a pleasant worker? Or what if your bright colors make you noticeable in any crowd?

Everyone is unique in some way, says Sandra Magnamen, in her newest little book, What If?: What makes you different makes you amazing! (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2019).  Magsamen's bright faux naif illustrations picture all kinds of animals who look and act all kinds of ways in her jolly preschool story, following Shakespeare's advice "to thine own self be true!" And...


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Friday, June 21, 2019

Every Day! The Sun Shines Everywhere by Mary Ann Hoberman

Some children live in Paris
And others live in Rome.
Some children dwell in New Rochelle
And some call China home.

Some children live in Delhi
And some in Delaware.
It doesn't matter where you live--
The sun shines everywhere.

When you think about it, the sun is pretty much the sine qua non, the "without which nothing" exists for us earth dwellers....
Our sun once shone on dinosaurs
And beasts that are no more.
It shone on oceans full of fish
And seashells washed ashore.

We and the sun go way back! Throughout human history, the sun's never missed a day. Oh, sometimes it's cloudy with rain or snow, but we'll see it soon, we always know. It shines when we're cold and when we're hot; it doesn't care if we like it or not.

The sun is dependable; that's its job, and that's the way we like it, in Mary Ann Hoberman's latest salute to the sun, The Sun Shines Everywhere (Little, Brown and Company, 2019). Author Hoberman, author of the National Book Award-winning A House Is a House for Me, knows how to create rhythmic rhyming stories that are a joy to read aloud and as joy to listen to, and illustrator Luciano Lozano gives youngsters plenty to see in his active illustrations of kids doing everything under the sun everywhere the sun shines, coast to coast and pole to pole. A happy heliocentric book to celebrate the summer solstice!

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Lunar Lunch? There Was An Old Astronaut That Swallowed the Moon by Lucille Colandro



Take a break, Old Lady. There's a Temp Lady who munches merrily on the moon, and we're off on a selective tour of the solar system.

The Old Astronaut chomps a comet which looks like an omelet. In turn on the menu are a meteoroid that morphs into a meteorite on impact, and then a planet in orbit and a rocket is on the diet docket....

And for dessert...


In a slight dietary deviation from her usual terrestrial tastings, Lucille Colandro's famous Old Lady snacks in space in her latest spoof of the famous folksong, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly-- There Was An Old Astronaut Who Swallowed the Moon! (There Was an Old Lady [Colandro]) (Cartwheel/Scholastic Books, 2019).

With her familiar rollicking rhymes and Jared Lee's trademark scratchy-lined comic illustrations, this latest in Colandro's jolly series also includes a handy space glossary, making this gustatory read-and-sing-along song a handy introduction or review of terms for a classroom unit on the solar system. Colandro also offers an appetizer in the form of search-and-find quiz for kids to spot space objects included in Lee's busy illustrations--a fun ragout of entertaining reading and science learning.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Fox Went Out on a Summer Night: Fox Explores the Night by Martin Jenkins

It's dark and cozy in her den when Fox first wakes, but a quick look outside tells her that it's still sunny midday, not a good time for a red fox to be out and about.

But when she wakes again, the sun is setting, and her hunger hurries her out for some foxy foraging.

It is not so easy to see in the dark, but when the moon peeks out from behind a cloud, she sees something that might be a meal--a mouse.

But the mouse is too fast for Fox.

She noses a cast-off pizza box by a trash can, but there's only a scent of food there. She trots on, only to be spooked by her reflection in a mirror in a shop window. She dodges the headlights of a speeding car which beeps at her.
That was close!

Fox follows the dark shadows into a alley, where her nose notices something tantalizingly tasty.

It's someone's barbecue pit, with the fire hot and glowing, and a plate of warm and juicy grilled chicken legs, left all alone on a table. And there, dropped on the ground, is a whole one--just right for a red fox's supper--as she follows the path in the moonlight back for a delicious dinner in her den.

Conservationist author Martin Jenkins' Fox Explores the Night: A First Science Storybook (Science Storybooks) (Candlewick Press, 2018) offers a bit of nocturnal urban wildlife adventure and a little treatise on light, from several sources, in this new American edition in the Science Storybook series. Now that foxes have taken up habitation close to humans in towns and suburbs, sharp-eyed young readers will be on the lookout for these shy mammals after reading this book.

Illustrations by Richard Smythe extend the text beautifully in frames and full-bleed night illustrations that show off the effects of different forms of light experienced in the nocturnal adventures of this charming little red fox vixen. Author Jenkins add a short appendix, "Thinking about Light and Dark," and a brief index/glossary that leads back to his text. Other books in this series offering basic animal science and easy reading experience are The Squirrels' Busy Year: A First Science Storybook (Science Storybooks) and Bird Builds a Nest: A First Science Storybook (Science Storybooks).

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Not Your Usual Day at the Beach: Roxie and the Hooligans at Buzzard's Roost by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Since Roxie's daring adventure foiled the bank robbers with the help of her town's notorious Hooligans, Roxie has hoped for a truce with that scruffy, ragtag gang of misfits.

But Roxie underestimates the Hooligans. Even when her Uncle Dangerfoot takes her and her bespectacled friend Norman along to his beach house, hoping to work on his hush-hush invention with his friend Lord Thistlebottom far from prying eyes and the press, they find a way to stowaway.

It was almost five hours later, and evening when they reached a large old house that sat back a bit from the ocean. Roxie and Norman were very stiff.

Uncle Dangerfoot reached for the latch on the trailer and opened the door. "What in thunder...?" he bellowed.

Roxie stared as Helvetia Hagus, Simon Surly, Freddy Filch, and Smoky Jo came tumbling out.

It seems as if Roxie cannot escape the Hooligans. Uncle Dangerfoot inexplicably accepts their story that their parents will not come to fetch them, and although the housekeeper and cook, Mrs. Tumbledry, is kindly, the other tenant, the Widow Bittersweet, veiled and gowned in heavy brown mourning garb, is scary weird. Rosie and Norman resolve to make the best of the uninvited guests, and Uncle Dangerfoot and Lord Thistlebottom seem totally absorbed in their secret invention... until the larcenous Helvetia, always on the lookout for a source of lucre, manages to swipe it.

The kids discover that the covert contraption is a rocket-powered jet pack, and Helvetia seizes the opportunity to try it out. Apparently the device is not quite ready for prime time, but Helvetia survives soaring above the beach, followed by a dive into the sand. The cat is out of the bag, and Uncle Dangerfoot is forced to explain the real purpose of his hideaway. He and Thistlebottom conceal their device in the Widow's baby's crib, where the petite Smoky Joe has elected to sleep, and, swathed in a baby blanket, she winds up being mistaken for the jet pack and kidnapped by the nefarious villain, Alfred Applejack.

Can Rosie and the remaining Hooligans combine forces to save Smokie Jo, or will she have to rescue them, in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's second rip-roaring, harem scarem comic adventure, Roxie and the Hooligans at Buzzard's Roost (Atheneum Books, 2018).  In this series, Naylor's delightful ability to combine colorful and perilous adventures with picaresque humor is reminiscent of John Bellairs in his quaint and comic Gothic series which include The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt) and his The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt (Johnny Dixon). Naylor, Newbery Award winner for Shiloh (The Shiloh Quartet), never fails to delight and enthrall readers, and this easy reading adventure novel is just right for summer nights.

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Monday, June 17, 2019

Family First! A Little Chicken by Tammi Sauer

Dot was a little chicken--who, in fact, let's say it, was a little chicken.

Sure, it's feasible to be scared of, you know, bears, or wolves, but scared stiff of...
Lawn gnomes? Butterflies?

Then one day, while adding extra security to the coop, Dot nudged a little egg that started rolling down the hill.

Dot gives chase. In fact, she's scrambling. Cluck!

The egg rolls right into the scariest place of all for Dot.
The deep, dark woods!

Braving a startled wolf and and bemused bear, Dot faces down her greatest fear--
Three very questionable lawn ornaments.

After all, that egg is family.

And when that egg comes to rest with a big CRACK, out pops a new baby sister for Dot, in Tammi Sauer's new chicken and egg story, A Little Chicken (Sterling, 2019). Facing fears is hard, but although Dot still shudders at the stony gaze of lawn gnomes, with a sister to look after, she's one plucky pullet. Illustrator Dan Taylor draws up some comical chickens in this latest by Tammi Sauer, mistress of silly critter stories.

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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Doing Time in Titular Limbo? Untitled by Timothy Young

Everybody's a critic! Carlos the Coatimundi and Ignatz the Capybara, nee Porcupine (the illustrator tired of drawing all those quills) are complaining, stuck in a book with no plot, setting, or theme. Marooned on a rock in a barren landscape, the two wannabe heroes long for a storyline in which they bravely battle dragons or monsters, bad hombres on horseback in the Badlands or atrocious octopi from a deep-sea capsule. What are they doing here, lost on big, empty pages, without even a premise?

"I've never seen a book about a coatimundi and a... wait, what are you again?"

"I'm a capybara, the world's largest rodent. He likes drawing lesser-known animals."

Carlos and Ignatz bemoan their lack of an exciting setting, only to find in a quick page turn that their creator has stuck them into a silly little red car in a page from Go, Dog, Go!

They seek refuge in the Children's Room of a library, longing to be the memorable main characters in books by other famous authors-illustrators of books like Make Way for Coatis, Coatimundi in Undies by Dr. Moose, Capybara Underpants by Dav Pilchard, Carlos and Ignatz Are Stuck in a Plothole, by Mac Barnowl and Jon Kinkajou, and Ignatz and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day, by Jaguar Viorst.
""He hardly writes a story. He just relies on characters like us to come up with the dialogue," Carlos kvetches.

And in true Timothy Young form, Ignatz and Carlos remain marooned in the desert of storyland with not a denouement in sight, until--

-- in the oldest plot device ever--DEUS, er, DINO EX MACHINA----they suddenly become dinner for a big, green T. Rex which, with both characters still lamenting a lack of foreshadowing from within its stomach, galumphs off into the sunset.
"Well, I didn't see that coming," says Carlos."

It looks like a setup for Untitled, Too, (The Sequel) in Timothy Young's latest titular spoof of the popular metafiction trope, the story within a story. Young, who professes to be a disciple of Marx Brothers movies, Monty Python, Mad Magazine, and Steve Martin, is in great form in his just-published picture book, Untitled (Schiffer Press, 2019). Author-illustrator of Looney Toon-ish-style parodies such as The Angry Little Puffin, I Hate Picture Books! and If You Give the Puffin a Muffin, Young also provides a double-page spread of library shelves with dozens of take-off titles from classic children's books that will keep young readers giggling as they peruse his parodied titles and authors. This one is a real tour de force of kiddy-lit lampooning for savvy readers to discover in a stealthy lesson in the ever-popular elements of fiction.

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

What To Do? Just Read by Leri Degman

Where do you read? When do you read? Why do you read?

HOORAY! I know how to read on my own!
But sometimes I don't want to do it alone.

You can read on trains; you can read on planes!
You can read on the swings; you can read when it rains.
Sometimes it's boring to read just one way.
It gets so monotonous day after day!

What do you do when there's nothing to do? What to do when there's everything to do?

The lively little readers in Leri Degman's latest, Just Read! (Sterling Children's Book, 2019) read anything, anywhere, with whomever they are with. They read sheet music in a music store, they read secret codes. They read rhyming signs beside the highway, and they read about exotic animals on the subway. They read in the park as they slide down the slide; they read when the family goes out for a ride. Author Leri Degman's jaunty rhymes portray kids reading and what they imagine as they read, and artist Victoria Tentler-Krylev's vivid, bustling illustrations of kids reading everywhere and anywhere show the endless ways to do it. Just do it! Just read!

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Up to Ten and Down Again! How to Two by David Soman

ONE can have fun!

A little boy's red cap flies off his head as he shoots off the end of a clearly slippery sliding board. What a ride!

But in the background, a solitary small girl in big green boots sits alone on one end of the seesaw.

It takes TWO to teeter-totter, so the boy jumps on!

Just then a girl with a jump rope hops into the scene. Can they make it a THREEsome?

The seesaw is forgotten as the two kids each take an end of the rope and the little girl jumps in--just as a boy with a ball walks up.


Play FOURsquare, of course, as they toss the ball around the little court painted on the pavement.

But the play group grows to include a boy pushing his toy bulldozer dump truck around in the sand box, and all FIVE get busy building a mountain in the middle for the trucks to move.

And when a sudden shower threatens, all FIVE run for the shelter, where a single girl makes SIX as she joins them in a circle game while they wait out the rain. Soon it stops, and when they spot a boy outside stomping through the puddles, they all race out to splash along with him, where the SEVEN splashers see a girl swinging from a tree branch, and they become a group of EIGHT playing hide-and-seek among the trees. And when a boy with a magnifying glass appears, all NINE get to peer through his glass at the turtles in the pond. And when one spies a boy alone on a bench, they're a team of TEN.

There's always room for ONE more, in author-illustrator David Soman's latest, How To Two (Dial Books, 2019), which, cleverly disguised as a counting book, is also a delightful dissertation on how each new child in free play helps the group morph into different games. And the number fun is not over, as in two double-page spreads, parents and grandparents converge to take each one back home, where the little boy in the red cap and his mom become a cozy TWO at story time.

Soman's artwork, celebrated for his part in the popular Ladybug Girl series, shines here as he creates a diverse, but charmingly individualized group of children doing what they do best--play--devising a series of pick-up games in their small park that goes up to ten and down again. Soman works his illustrative magic as each new prospective playmate appears, foreshadowing just what is going to happen next, making this new easy-to-read picture book the kind kids will come back to over and over again, long after they've mastered counting. "No two ways about it--this one is a delight." raves Kirkus Reviews.

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Shadowing Shackleton! Captain's Log: Snowbound by Erin Dionne

Monday is "All about Explorers Day" at school and I'm reporting on the amazing explorer Ernest Shackleton!

Our little student is psyched. His tri-fold project board is completed, with an icebound sailing ship and its seamen frozen into styrofoam ice, framed by his neatly printed report and carefully mounted, cut-out photographs of the principals of the voyage. And he knows everything about the heroic English explorer of the South Pole's ocean. He can't wait for Monday!

But irony of ironies, Monday dawns with a blizzard. Our boy is marooned on their rocky coastline with his own crew--his parents, his dog, the ship's cat, and his pesky little brother, hereinafter called The Scalawag.

The Scalawag wastes no time. While the boy forms a shore party to explore the coast in his improvised dogsled, spotting a fur seal (his furry-coated neighbor with his snow blower), the Scalawag is up to no good, making off with the ship's hardtack rations (Mom's cookies). And our young explorer's favorite tankard and quill pen also go missing. But before they can be tracked down, all hands are to called to duty clearing the ice from their own deck.
Captain's Log. Day 3: The Endurance was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea and twenty-eight men were stranded on ice floes. Although we have not yet reached such dangerous circumstances, our provisions are low. The hardtack is dwindling. I fear we may never resume our voyage.

And rations are growing short. Our boy is certain that The Scalawag is hoarding the hardtack. A raid must be made on the Scalawag's quarters, wherein the remnants of hardtack are mostly returned to the ship's stores. But...
Mutiny! The crew has turned against me! I am confined to quarters! My only joy is that The Scalawag is also contained.

Luckily, this crew's blizzard doesn't require clinging to floating ice floes, setting out in sail-rigged lifeboats, and slogging across 800 miles of icy ocean before reaching a whaling station, as Shackleton's did. In fact, on Day 5 of the ship's log, our boy, nicely turned out in his naval uniform, and The Scalawag, definitely well-fed, pile into the family car, Explorer project and all, and head back to school, where the project receives a warm welcome, in Erin Dionne's Captain's Log: Snowbound (Charlesbridge, 2019). Author Dionne offers up an Author's Note which logs her own time marooned on snow days, and she also includes the complete written report on Shackleton's voyage and a glossary of salty nautical terms, while artist Jeffrey Ebbeler's humorous illustrations of the family ship's log  record some memorably marooned snow days.

When the time comes (as it will for most schoolkids) when they must prepare a report on a famous historical personage, this one will be a great read-aloud to kick off the project, and young elementary grade students will love the family's snow-day sight gags which illustrator Ebbeler includes in his comic artwork. Adds Kirkus in their starred review, "When a young adventurer is snowed in, his predicament begins to parallel that of the icebound Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton," and both author and illustrator "enrich a story that takes its pretend play very seriously."

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Way: Zen Happiness by Jon Muth

What do you do when you get to the top?


Stillwater, the stolid, gentle Zen panda is back in an elegantly illustrated little gift book by the Caldecott-winning author-illustrator Jon J. Muth.

Stillwater shows his small friends the best way to go with inspired aphorisms, one for every month and each season, as he offers damp children a big red umbrella and a chance to return as many beached starfish to the sea as possible, even if it is impossible to toss them all back.

How can you continue climbing and observe stillness at the same time? Sit calmly and think.

If we become what we think--we can create our own world, and out world can be changed.

Caldecott artist Jon J. Muth's pithy guide to behavior, Zen Happiness (Scholastic Press, 2018), offers children calming pearls of wisdom, personal proverbs to live by, and lovely pastel illustrations in this latest book about finding peace and joy. Says School Library Journal, "A book that encourages mindfulness, love and self-awareness."

Share this one with Muth's Caldecott book Zen Shorts (Caldecott Honor Book) and sequels (see reviews here).

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Power Princesses: Briar and Rose and Jack by Katherine Coville

All Queen Mervyn has ever wanted is about to come to pass in the birth of this long-awaited child. Only one wise woman is allowed to attend the Queen, an unsightly crone named Hilde--part wise woman, part midwife, and. some say, part fairy.

The time is at hand. Outside the chamber, King Warrick hears a lusty cry. "At last," cries the king. "An heir!"

But within the chamber, Hilde trembles, feeling a surging sympathy for the infant even as her heart sinks. She places the baby in Queen Mervyn's arms. The Queen draws back the blanket and gasps. The infant has a protruding brow, a sagging eyelid, and coarse, asymmetrical features. But something happens. The ugly little face breaks into a smile. The queen is charmed. "Ahh, the sweet little thing!" she says.

But almost immediately a second daughter is born, this one with an unearthly beauty even as a newborn, and to please the King, the Queen and Hilde decide to name her Rose and to present the beautiful child as the rightful heir. Hilde names the real firstborn Briar and agrees to raise her as an orphaned child of neighboring nobles. At their christening the Fairy Queen grants Rose lifelong beauty and charm, and by Hilde's intervention, Briar is given strength and intelligence. And then the jealous Gray Fairy intervenes with a curse on Rose, that on her sixteenth birthday the prick of a spindle will cause her to sleep for a hundred years, to be wakened only by the kiss of a true love.

The two secret sisters spend all their time together as they grow and delight in slipping away from the castle to play in the forest near the village, where they befriend the struggling Mother Mudge and her son Jack. The village peasants never seem to have enough to eat because of the Giant Tax, levied by the King to buy off the Evil Giant whose raids become ever more greedy. Despite the fearful giant, however, the three children become loyal friends and swear an oath that together, as the "Giant Killers," they will someday save the kingdom.

But sweet-natured Rose, accustomed to being loved by all, is easily misled by the "mean girls" of the court, Lady Arabella and her minions, who play cruel pranks on Briar, excluding her from their fun, and Briar finds herself turning more and more to Mother Mudge and Jack for companionship, where she resolves to save the half-starved villagers from the King's oppressive Giant Tax. And then she overhears the King telling the Queen that to save their secret fortune and their kingdom he must compel Rose to marry the old and cruel King Udolf. And when Briar tells Rose about the marriage being arranged for her, Rose chooses the prick of the spindle for herself rather than face the fate her father requires of her, and Briar realizes that she alone has the love and loyalty to save her sister.

In Katherine Coville's forthcoming Briar and Rose and Jack (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2019), the tales of Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk come together in a fantasy novel set within a folkloric medieval framework which affirms the power of courage, friendship, and love to overcome the magic of evil. As in her earlier fractured fairy story, The Cottage in the Woods, which mixes a classic Jane Austen story with the classic Goldilocks setting, in her new novel for savvy middle readers Coville introduces into the old tale of "spell-binding" and true love a modern sense of personal and social responsibility in the face of corruption, greed, and evil.

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