Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sharing Pairing: Toy Trouble (Martha Speaks) by Susan Meddaugh

Up 'till now, catching Frisbees has always been Martha's and Skits' favorite outdoor game. But that was before Helen's friend T.D. gave them the best dog toy ever--a genuine Screaming Slingshot Squirrel! Not only does it catapult from his fingers and soar across the yard, tail flapping in the breeze, but it makes a sound--chitter-chitter-chitter--calculated to make any pooch swoon! Martha and Skits are after it in a nanosecond! Skits makes the first catch.


Helen is forced to be the judge and jury here. "You have to share," she frowns, but when Skits reluctantly hands over the prize, Martha seizes the prize and taunts Skits with a triumphant "All mine!"

Helen confiscates the toy and takes the two inside. Pulling out an old toddler video on sharing, she plunks the two mutts down in front of the TV for a bit of attitude adjustment.

It's still a squirrel standoff. Martha tries negotiating a swap for one of her old toys, but Skits isn't having any of that either. Finally Martha makes a grab for the squirrel and is off and running. The two dogs are soon merrily competing in a game of "steal the squirrel," which morphs into a toy tug of war when Skits catches up with the swiped squirrel. Helen frowns again and points out that they are still not sharing!



As usual, Martha manages to get the last word in Susan Meddaugh's newest, Martha Speaks: Toy Trouble (Reader) (Green Light Readers Level 2) (Houghton Mifflin, 2010). Another entry in her Green Light Readers for beginners in the independent reader group, this one offers additional activities following the story to reinforce the vocabulary introduced. Kids familiar with the favorite PBS program based on Susan Meddaugh's long-popular Martha Speaks books will find that Martha the talking dog is a natural as a companion for playtime and reading time.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Love Story: The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper

"In fair Verona, where we lay our scene . . . "

Kate Sanderson is a sensible girl, so she doesn't think much of it when she boards a plane to one of the most romantic cities in the world for a summer Shakespeare seminar on Romeo and Juliet in Verona. Determined to immerse herself in the rich Italian culture (and pasta and gelato, of course), Kate finds love is the last thing on her practical mind when she meets Giacomo, the handsome, dark-eyed son of her father's academic rival, Professoressa Marchese.

Tracking the plot line of Much Ado About Nothing, Juliet's new friends scheme to bring her and Giacomo together in a summer romance, and spying out their plan, Juliet and Giacomo in turn agree to flirt openly and pretend to become totally smitten with each other. But when the two of them become entwined in a real whirlwind romance, Kate finds herself experiencing real feelings for the gorgeous and charming Italian heart breaker, finding herself as deeply immersed in romance as the real Juliet.

Determined to make the most of their short time together, the couple people-watch in the plaza, sipping lemonade, and share secret kisses under the warm sun with all the Mediterranean delights of the Continent, culminating in their last night together, starring as Romeo and Juliet in their class production of that timeless romance.

A classic romance abroad with enough romantic twists borrowed from several of the Bard's dramas to satisfy the most love-obsessed teen-aged girl, The Juliet Club (HarperCollins, 2010) moonlights as a light read with literary merit deftly concealed by Suzanne Harper's sly borrowings from the Bard. The author even adds a bit of personal insight into the essence of real love in the class's assignment to answer letters from real lovelorn teens as "Juliet" of the Juliet Club, a sort of Italian "Dear Abby" column. The author also colors her storytelling with plenty of historical and cultural details of the setting in Verona, adding a degree of depth not seen in most young adult romance novels.

Harper cut her literary teeth on three spin off novels based on the popular Hannah Montana show (Rock the Waves (Hannah Montana), Hannah Montana: In the Loop, and Swept Up (Hannah Montana), and her highly reviewed young adult novel The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney. Witty storytelling, believable teen characters, and enough Shakespearean subplots to satisfy even an English teacher, this one belongs on any girl's summer reading list.

[Welcome back to my favorite teen reviewer, Julia Teal, back from her own summer seminar, with a review of a fictional counterpart who signed up for no more than a college credit course abroad and found more than she expected.]

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

"BLARGIE! BLARGIE?" Cat the Cat, Who Is That? by Mo Willems

Cat the Cat surely likes her friends. There's good buddy Mouse the Mouse, her inexplicably best friend. Then there's the slightly stuffy Duck the Duck and surfer dude Fish the Fish, all with their own style of greeting, all as familiar as her own whiskers.

But then, Cat the Cat meets up with a genuine stranger.

Stacking blocks in her own neighborhood, there is a truly indescribable someone--or someTHING!



I... HAVE... NO... IDEA.

It's tall. Its eyes are on stalks. It has three legs.

And FOUR arms.

And it can talk. "Blargie! Blargie!" it burbles at her.

Cat the Cat's tail goes all bottle-brushy and her ears are at full alert.

But the Alien seems harmless, with what might be loosely construed as a smile on what might be interpreted as its face. So Cat the Cat gets brave! Maybe.... Could "it" even be a friend?

Cat the Cat tries to twist her tongue around the creature's greeting. She tries out her own version of "blargie!" The creature blargies right back!

A friendship is born.

Mo Willems' ever perky Cat the Cat is back with yet another very simple early reader, Cat the Cat, Who Is That? (Balzer & Bray, 2010). Into this little book of very few basic words, Willems pours all his considerable and lauded skills of illustration and dialogue into turning his basic line drawings into individuals with their own individual personalities. For very early emergent readers not quite ready for his award-winning Elephant and Piggie early reading series, the adventures of Cat the Cat are simply the cat's whiskers.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Horse Sense: Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse by Emily Arnold McCully

Bill Key was born a slave on a plantation in 1833. Even as a little boy, he had a special way with animals. He could soothe and he could cure just about any creature.

After the Civil War, Bill Key became a practicing veterinarian and earned the nickname "Doc Key." In time his liniment, blended for horses, became a best-selling remedy for patients, animal and human, and actually made Bill Key a rich man.

As one of his profitable investments, Bill bought a beautiful but obviously abused Arabian mare, whom he named Lauretta, hoping that she would bear a future champion. But his dream was not to be: the foal, called Jim Key, was born with twisted legs and Lauretta soon died. Saddened by the death of his mare, Bill nevertheless raised the youngster with no hopes that he would ever be of any use. Barely able to walk, the colt nevertheless seemed alert and gamely watched Doc as he played fetch with his dogs daily until...

One day Doc felt a nudge on his shoulder. It was Jim Key with a stick in his mouth.

"You want to play fetch?" Doc smiled for the first time in weeks. He threw the stick and Jim stumbled after it. The foal had never taken more than two steps!

Jim picked up the stick and tottered back. He trotted a few feet! Offering the stick, he spread his lips in a grin.

Soon the colt learned other tricks. He knocked at the door every night until Doc let him in and became a nightly boarder until he was too large to get through the door. Doc then gave in and moved his own bed out to the barn to keep his amazing horse company.

Doc knew horses and he could see that Jim was unusually intelligent. Soon he figured out a way to open a drawer where his owner stored apples, had a feast, and closed the drawer behind himself.

"I wonder what else you could learn," Doc wondered. Jim lifted his chin as if to say "Try me!"

With all the patience and kindness he advocated to the owners of the horses he treated, Doc slowly taught Jim Key to recognize the letters of the alphabet one by one. Then he taught him colors and numbers and how to spell and do simple arithmetic with his number cards.

One day watching Jim add and subtract, Doc cried, "Jim, we should go on the road! People will be amazed by how much you know. They will see that animals have feelings and it's wrong to make them suffer!"

Doc and Jim Key were a sensation on the medicine show circuit, as Jim wowed the crowd by making change from a cash register, dancing and bowing for the ladies in the audience, and eventually playing theatres, fairs, and large arenas. Always an advocate for humane treatment of animals, Doc saw an opportunity to affiliate with the new Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and after the skeptical Society arranged for a team of Harvard professors to assure that there was no hoax involved in Jim's performance, they agreed to sponsor the two.

Doc and Jim Key became superstars, touring in their private Pullman car, always teaching their audiences new respect the feelings and intelligence of animals. Thousands of children came to watch Jim's feats and to sign a pledge to treat all animals with kindness. Although after nine years on the road, Doc and Jim Key retired to their farm, Doc was still willing to show off Jim's amazing abilities to any fans who came to visit.

Caldecott Award-winning author-illustrator Emily Arnold McCully in her latest, Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse (Henry Holt, 2010), provides plenty of her winning watercolor illustrations which greatly extend the text, and her direct but fascinating narrative will win new fans for Jim Key among her young readers. It's an amazing story of two remarkable beings, Bill Key who rose from slavery to become both wealthy and influential in the cause of animal welfare and his incredible wonder horse whose intelligence and performing skills has never been equaled. A must-read for animal lovers and an inspiring book for all.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Dark Magic: Murder at Midnight by Avi

The soldiers and Fabrizio carried the coffin into the ancient crypt. The room was cold and damp. It smelled of decay. Though he had seen them before, Fabrizio could not keep his eyes from the great piles of bones and skulls set against the crumbling walls. God keep us from becoming part of these piles, he prayed.

In a literal cloak and dagger historical mystery, a companion book to his popular Midnight Magic, two-time Newbery winner Avi's Murder At Midnight (Scholastic, 2009) takes us to the tiny city-state of Pergamontio, a bastion of medieval ignorance and machination.

Fabrizio is a ten-year-old orphan, precariously holding on to his tenuous position as servant to Mangus the Magician because of the affection and good graces of Signora Mangus. An uneducated rag-pickers' child, Fabrizio believes that his master is a true wizard of the dark arts, although the Maestro, devoted to the study of philosphy, repeatedly tells him that there is no magic in his work, only illusion which he practices only to feed the household. But when a performance in a local tavern results in his arrest for magically producing hundreds of identical handbills advocating treason against the superstitious ruler, Fabrizio knows that, with his mistress away from town, the job of proving his master's innocence is his alone.

Cleverly escaping the executioner himself, Fabrizio forms an alliance with another prisoner whom he frees in his escape, a young girl whose blackened face and arms almost convinces him that she herself is an ally of the Devil. Maria is indeed a devil--a printer's devil--and her family's newly set-up press is the true source of the magically identical copies, and Fabrizio realizes that he and his master are pawns in a power struggle between the king, his power-hungry crown prince Cosimo, and the frightening and manipulative Count Scarazoni.

In a plot which deserves the term "Byzantine," involving murders in underground dungeons, a lonely amoral executioner with a sense of humor, multiple chases through dark tunnels and midnight streets, and many twists of plot, Fabrizio and Maria concoct a precarious plot to free Mangus at his trial in the shadowy underground crypt below the Castello. Using a magician's coffin with a double bottom and a bit of his master's illusionary powers, Fabrizio stage-manages an eerie appearance by Maria, transformed into the figure of death with a good coating of Signora Mangus's pale face powders and armed with freshly printed "magical" copies, hastily run off on the family press, of a document which convinces the impressionable king of the identity of the true conspirator.

In a fast-moving plot replete with improbabilities and heavy with delicious atmosphere, Avi, ever the master storyteller, has concocted a page-turning tale which will keep the reader absorbed and amused by his picaresque protagonist. Fabrizio is indeed a breezy and imaginative hero, a resilient, street-wise improviser, and middle readers will love this brief immersion in the world of early Renaissance intrigue and superstition.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Glass Houses: Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian



Keeping up the pace is not the challenge of our goldfish memoirist here. Things are pretty dull around (and around) the place, at least when there's a population of one in the old bowl.

But then the pace begin to pick up. First a guest drops in--a deep sea diver who is not the life of the party.



The next day brings a forest of plants all around the bowl. Goldfish is underwhelmed with the new landscaping.



But the next drop-in visitor is even LESS APPEALING--a snail named Mervin who likes to eat the slime off the inside of the bowl.


Mervin the slime lover is followed by Fred the crab who is, well, crabby!



But things only get worse. Into both disputed sides of the bowl are soon dropped an angelfish named Cha Cha and guppies named Rhoda and Clark who are soon to become parents of a whole school of guppy-ettes. Everyone is running into everyone else, and the only one who is happy is Mervin, who suddenly has more than enough slime for any snail. Goldfish has had it with the madding crowd.


And somebody out there in the great beyond must be listening. The next day Goldfish finds himself scooped up and dropped into a small bowl. There is no Mr. Bubbles, no crabby Fred, no slime-sucking Mervin, nobody--just clean water as far as it goes. It's all his.

There is room to swim around--just barely. But it's really kinda dull, Goldfish has to admit. He can't help wondering what's going on back in the old neighborhood. Is Mr. B. still on his face, tangled in the plants? Did Rhoda have all her babies? Who's gonna help change their guppy diapers? If only they could all be together in slightly more commodious accommodations! If only this lonely guy goldfish had a friend.

Of course, Devin Scillian's just published Memoirs of a Goldfish (Sleeping Bear Press, 2010) provides that happy ending as the whole gang is reunited in a shiny bright new tank, with plenty of room for all, even its newest resident, an oh-so-attractive little goldfish named Gracie, all ably illustrated in comic style by artist Tim Bowers.



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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Body Language: What's Your Sound, Hound the Hound? by Mo Willems



It's party time for Cat the Cat and her friends. Cat the Cat brings goodies in a wicker basket covered with a jaunty plaid napkin, and Hound the Hound provides a luscious-looking layer cake which Cat balances neatly on her tail while Hound the Hound volunteers his signature sound.

Rounding up the other party goers, Cat the Cat challenges each to come up with their own characteristic greeting. Chick the Chick offers a perfect PEEP! and Cow the Cow comes up with a mighty "MMMMMOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" as they add their contributions to the party. But then Cat the Cat asks the same of Bunny the Bunny. Bunny looks stricken, and his ears sag.

" ............"

All the friends look at the speechless Bunny the Bunny and suddenly decide that what he needs is a group hug, which he he gets from Cat the Cat, Chick the Chick, and even Cow the Cow.

Mo Willem's recent emergent reader, What's Your Sound, Hound the Hound? (Cat the Cat) (Balzer & Bray, 2010) offers a minimal text illuminated by his clever black-line and pastel water-color illustrations which has a lot to say about sensitivity of others. Fans of the Cat the Cat series will want to party with Cat the Cat and her empathetic friends, in this very easy first venture in early emergent readers.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Far Out! Strike Three, Marley! by Ellen Beier and John Grogan

It was spring, and Cassie was going to her first baseball game.

"Come on, Marley!" said Daddy. "You can come, too!"

Daddy told Cassie the rules.

"If the batter misses the ball, it's called a strike. Three strikes and you're out."

Daddy looked around at Marley. "Your rules are simple," he told him.


"RUFFFF!" Marley barked

Gradually Cassie gets the hang of the rules of baseball and into the spirit of the game. Although he gets his rules, though, Marley finds it hard to stay with them. When a batter finally makes contact with the ball and hits it into the outfield, Marley has had enough of his rules.

"They're playing FETCH! That's my favorite game!" thought Marley. I want to play, too."

But when Marley joins the game, it's time out for the giggling players. Marley fields the ball and starts back toward the diamond, stopping to pick up second base, have a tug of war over a bat, "steal' home plate, and find a nice strip of conveniently soft, fresh dirt around the plate in which to bury the ball.

The pitcher laughed. "Sometimes I want to bury the ball, too."

Even the umpire forgets to call a foul when Marley sits down and offers him his paw. It's not exactly what Cassie expected from her first baseball game, but it surely is exciting!
"We're glad you're on OUR team, Marley," says Cassie.

There's never a dull moment when Marley is on your team, and in Marley: Strike Three, Marley! (I Can Read Book 2) (Harper, 2010) Marley is back on Harper's all-star I-Can-Read team, with a baseball story that will help keep beginning readers' scores in the educational big leagues. With an easy format, giggles and chuckles, oodles of pictures of the precocious pup Marley by illustrator Ellen Beier, and baseball-related vocabulary in Susan Hill's text, rookie readers are all set for their first season with the famous all-star and best-selling Marley.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Outside the Wall: Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

"...Letting women register for medical training! Pshaw! Whatever next?"

Charles picked up his glass of wine and appeared to consider it carefully. "A girl who is educated beyond what is necessary for her role as wife and mother cannot possibly reach the perfect ideal of womanhood."

Uncle Bertram shook his head. "These women--they hardly deserve the name! They're a disgrace to their sex! Aping men!"

Leaping to my feet, I shouted, "How can you say such stupid things!... They're not a disgrace to their sex but a fine example."

"Hoity toity, Miss!" said Uncle Bertram, red in the face. "That's no way to speak to your elders and betters."

I shook off Aunt Phyllis' hand. "This is who I am. This is what I believe. And I tell you something--I want to be a doctor and it doesn't matter what my brother or any of you say, somehow, I don't know how, I will do it."

Like the whalebone corset which keeps her from taking a deep breath, sixteen-year-old Louisa Cosgrove has always struggled under the Victorian limits set for women. Her physician father recognizes her intellect and drive and privately encourages her to follow in his footsteps, but her mother despairs of her wayward daughter, uninterested in becoming a wife and mother. But with her father's sudden death, she finds herself without an ally and mentor, and when, on a visit to her beloved cousin to be fitted for a bridesmaid dress for Grace's wedding to the pompous Charles, Louisa loses her temper and reveals her real ambitions to her shocked family, who recoil from her in disdain and unbelief.

Shortly afterward she finds herself bundled off, with her mother's consent, supposedly to become a companion to the young sister of brother Tom's wealthy classmate. Louisa goes along, under protest, but there is something disturbing about the vaguely hostile chaperon her mother hires, something which arouses Louisa's fears with her distant manner and inability to meet her eyes.

Her cloak is worn..., but in her pinched monkey face, her eyes are bold, inquisitive. And she has hardly spoken a word, not yesterday all the way down in the train from the north, not this morning on the journey from Liverpool Street by rail and then this carriage. But she has never stopped watching me. Even without looking at her, I know she is watching me now.

Louisa's fears are justified. Her destination, Wildthorn Hall, turns out not to be the country estate of a wealthy family, but an asylum for mentally insane women. Pre-registered under the name of Lucy Childs, Louisa's protests against her new name and the diagnosis of insanity caused by studies which overtax the fragile female brain and her protestations that she is sane are offered as proof of the reason for her commitment. Installed first in the "First Gallery," for manageable patients, Louisa learns through sympathetic attendants that only the unknown family member who committed her has the authority to free her. Her attempts to contact her family and ultimately to escape by night fail, and she finds herself strapped down for hours, denied food and water, and then confined to a ward of raving lunatics, the dreaded "Fifth Gallery" whose filth and bedlam is feared by patients and attendants alike. Only one staff member, a kind local girl named Eliza, believes her story and tries to help her. Try to get sent to the infirmary, Eliza counsels her.

And so she begins a desperate plan. Louisa obtains through Eliza a bottle of Fowler's solution, a popular hand remedy which she knows to contain arsenic and uses her father's medical teachings to calibrate a dose that will make her deathly ill and get her into a place where escape is at least possible. The plan is dangerous: an overdose of the solution can kill her, and even if she reaches the infirmary she must flee at night and find a way out of Wildthorn Hall and its walls. Convinced that her entire family believes her mentally unstable, Louisa knows that she will likely be on her own even if she succeeds in her plan. But she also knows that to remain at Wildthorn will surely be worse than death.

Jane Eagland's Wildthorn (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), published first in the UK and forthcoming in the U.S. in September, is a gripping cross-genre novel. Part Victorian Gothic, part psychological mystery, part family drama, and part improbable romance, this novel weaves Louisa's story into the fabric of Victorian English society at the time women were first gaining the opportunity to gain education and an independent life in the professions. Characterization is strong, the plot offers many strange and unforeseen twists, which, although deftly foreshadowed, may surprise even the closest reader, including the identify of the family member responsible for Louisa's imprisonment. The theme, the empowerment of people in a society which denies their ability and individuality, comes through strong and clear, although the introduction of a romantic involvement between Louisa and Eliza may trouble some readers. But for young adult readers who will enjoy this engrossing look back at conditions little more than a hundred years ago, this view of the powerlessness of women in the family and in society and the treatment of the mentally ill will both entertain and enlighten.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Come Fly With Me! Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl by Tedd Arnold

Buzz and Fly Guy went walking.

A girl was running. A fly was chasing her.

"Don't worry," said Buzz. "Flies aren't pests. They are pets!"

"I know!" said the girl. "This is my pet. Her name is Fly Girl."

Talk about your cute meets! In the best movieland romance tradition, Fly Guy and Fly Girl are instant soul mates. Fly Guy can say his boy's name--"BUZZ!" but Fly Girl can say her girl's name, too--"LIZZ!" Any aeronautical maneuver that Fly Guy can muster, Fly Girl can match or best. They share a common interest in disgusting green goos of all kinds. And the attraction is mutual between them. Soon the two are muttering sweet nothings to each other:



In no time the two muscae domesticae are pitching serious woo and thinking of setting up their own domestic partnership in an empty dog food can with "Home Sweet Home" over the door. But what about Buzz and Liz? Can the two enamoradas abandon their best friends even for domestic bliss in the garbage dumpster?

Author-illustrator Tedd Arnold takes on this romantic dilemma in the latest in his award-winning Fly Guy series in Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl (Scholastic, 2010). With a beginning reader vocabulary and chapter headings which give it the look of an early chapter reader, this one is bound to be popular with fans of these very popular emergent reader books. For more Fly Guy fun, pair this one with There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly Guy.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Timely Travel: Roberto and Me by Dan Gutman

If you have a chance to accomplish somethng tht will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth.
---Roberto Clemente

Time is something Josh Stoshack thinks about a lot. After all, he's the kid with the amazing ability to move through time. Just by holding an old baseball card in his hand, he can be transported back to the date on the card and into the life of the pictured player. In his latest book in the Baseball Card Adventures series, Josh not only goes back to 1969 but is given an opportunity to move forward in time and get a look at baseball in the very different world of 2080.

But as the novel opens, Josh has more prosaic personal problems in his own time--a batting slump and a equally slumping grade in Spanish. Warily he approaches Ms. Molina, hoping for an extra credit project to bring his grade up enough to stay out of trouble with his mom. As he talks to his sympathetic teacher, he impulsively asks her about her handicap and the candle she always keeps burning on her desk. With a wistful look, Ms. Molina tells him of the time when, as a poor three-year-old in a Puerto Rican hospital, she was visited by star baseball player Roberto Clemente. Clemente promised to send her family the needed $100 for a round of an expensive antibiotics to treat her spinal infection, but died in his ill-fatal rescue mission to Guatemala before he could pay for the medication. "It is for Roberto Clemente," she says, pointing to the candle.

Suddenly Josh knows what he must do. All he needs is a Clemente baseball card to take him back and give him a chance to warn Clemente not to board that plane on December 31, 1972. Josh hurries over to the sports card shop where his grizzled coach and mentor Flip comes up with a yellowed clipping reporting Clemente's death but fails to find a Clemente card in stock. Josh's dad has more luck, digging out a tattered card dating from his childhood. "I was a Yankees fan," he admits apologetically. "Me and my friends used it as a dartboard." Although the card's date is obliterated, Josh takes it home, determined to use it that night. He even brushes up on his Spanish to make sure he can talk to Clemente. "Donde esta' el correo?" "Necessito ayuda," he repeats from his useful phrases list. And then he carefully memorizes the key words he knows he must say: "No subas el avion, Roberto!" " Don't get on the airplane, Roberto!

The card gets him back to 1969, all right, but not to the Pirates' stadium in Pittsburgh as he had hoped. Instead he is dropped right into a screaming crowd just as Jimi Hendrix comes to his ear-shattering crescendo on "The Star-Spangled Banner." From his mother's often-played records, Josh guesses instantly that he is at Woodstock. Josh is intrigued with the people around him. He has dressed as a "hippie" for Halloween often, but surrounded by the real thing, he follows the crowds as they leave the field for the trip home. Josh picks up a muddy newspaper and reads in the sports section that the Pirates are playing in Cincinnati the next day, and spotting a pretty teenaged girl holding up a Cincy sign, he falls in with her. Luckily they find a ride with Wendy and Peter, heading for San Francisco in their VW van. As they travel through the night from New York, Peter holds forth on the Viet Nam War protest and the demonstration in their home town they are joining on Friday. Wendy gives Josh some beads and a headband to make him feel more at home, and the girl, who calls herself "Sunrise," confesses that she has slipped away from home to travel to Woodstock and is afraid to go back to her family in Cincinnati. Eagerly she asks if she can postpone that moment by going with Josh to Crosley Field for the game where Clemente is playing.

After the game Josh and Sunrise manage to talk with Clemente, who allows him to tell his improbable story. Handed the faded newspaper clipping, Clemente is taken aback to read the account of his own death, still three years ahead of him, and finally promises not to take off on that flight. As they part he impulsively hands Josh a $100 bill to help him out. Convincing the teary Sunrise that she should go back to her own family and try to make a difference there, Josh returns to his own time, tired and dirty with the dust of the 1960s, but feeling that this time he has managed to change the past for the best. Hastily he goes to his computer and Googles Clemente, only to find that he had indeed died in 1972 after all. Despite his promise, Roberto had gotten on that plane, still determined to make a difference in his own time.

And there Gutman's adventure story could have ended. But at 2:14 the next morning, Josh Stoshack is suddenlyawakened by a slight movement in his room.

I looked across the room, over at my desk.

There was somebody sitting there. Looking at me.

"Are you awake?" the boy whispered.

"I'm not sure. If this is a dream, then no."

"My name is Bernard," he said. "Bernard Stoshack."

"Are you related to me?" I asked.

"Yeah," he replied. "I'm your great-grandson.

I live in the year 2080."

Bernard Stoshack is apparently the only recipient of Josh's baseball card gene, and he tells Josh that he must go back with him to 2080. "I need to take you to the future, Grandpa," he pleads.

And life in 2080 is not what "Grampa" Josh expects at all. The card that takes him and Bernard back to the future reads "Bob Feist, Lowstop, Chicago CubSox," and metropolitan Chicago is pretty much gone, leveled by frequent mega-storms. Bernard and his family live without electricity on a ramshackle farm where the suburbs used to be, and the pickup game of baseball he joins has some surprising differences from the game he knows. Sweating in the plus-100 degree heat, Josh is amazed to learn that this is considered a cool day in January of 2080. As the clincher, Bernard shows him a textbook with a familiar map of the United States--familiar except that the east and west coasts look somewhat different. And then he sees why Bernard has told him that the Marlins and Rays are no more. Most of Florida is underwater. It is obvious why Bernard has used his time travel powers to find his great-grandfather, hoping that he can convince him to help change the difficult future in which they are forced to live. Then as a sudden tornado approaches, Bernard quickly has Josh return to his own time before the violent storm hits, and Josh understands that the very lives of his descendants may depend on the changes that he must make in his own time.

Back home, as Josh hurriedly suits up for his team's game that day, his head whirling with the the two turbulent times he has visited, he comes across Roberto's $100 bill in the pocket of his dirty jeans. Immediately Josh sees one thing he can do to change the past for the better. Begging a 1972 baseball card from Flip after the game, Josh waits for that familiar all-over tingling to do its work.

I opened my eyes. I was sitting on a bench in a bus stop next to a lady with a shopping bag.

"Excuse me, ma'am," I asked. "Is there a post office around here?"

"No hablo Ingles," she said.

Just my luck.

Wait! It was okay. This one I could handle.

"Donde esta el correo?" I asked.

Running in the direction she points, Josh enters the post office. The date says October 27, 1972.

"I'd like to buy one envelope, please," I say to the lady behind the counter. I fished Roberto Clemente's one-hundred-dollar bill out of my pocket and slipped it into the envelope.

Taking the pen on the counter that was attached to a little chain, I wrote this neatly on the outside of the envelope:

Senorita Molina
San Jose Children's Hospital
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Dan Gutman's Roberto & Me (Baseball Card Adventures) (Harper, 2010) gives middle readers a time travel adventure, some vivid game play action, and plenty to think about as its hero experiences the good and bad of his present, the past, and the future. Gutman's skilled storytelling never falters as he moves through what could have been a cumbersome plot without a hitch, giving his readers a taste of history, some laughs, and plenty of adventure in this slim and fast-paced time-travelling fantasy which will keep its readers turning those pages.

Oh, and Josh gets that A in Spanish from Ms. Molina, whose candle is still burning and whose legs are just fine, thanks.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer Cinema Spinoffs: Toy Story 3 and Marmaduke

If movie makers can take children's books and make them into movies, why not try going the other direction with the product? Well, book publishers have wasted no time moving into summer hit movie spinoffs, and Random House's Toy to Toy (Disney/Pixar Toy Story 3) (Step into Reading) is a good example.

With text by Tennant Redbank set at the lowest (Level 1) beginning reader format and illustrations faithful to the characters in the Pixar movie, this book briefly sketches out the first third of the movie as loyal toys Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie the Cowgirl, and the rest watch their beloved Andy packing up to go to college and find themselves recycled into a questionable home at Sunnyside Daycare. There they are introduced to the powers-that-be, Lotso the boss teddy bear, Sparks, the electronic action figure, Big Baby, and the rest. "Will Andy's toys like their new home?" the text reads as this segment of the story concludes. This one and its follow-up sequels in the Toy Story 3 sequence offer the youngest a chance to reminisce about a favorite movie as they hone their emergent reading skills.

I saw the movie with another adult, a three-year-old, a five-year-old, and a sophisticated eleven-year old, and all of us found something to like. The youngest ones loved the fantasy action, the older child got the humor aimed at adults and older viewers, and I myself responded to the familiar pathos of the empty nest syndrome. The book should prove popular with kids who have seen all the movies and those just moving into the age to enjoy them.

Not to be outdone by Random, Harper has their own entry into the easy-reader spinoff market, based on this summer's Marmaduke movie, Taking a page from the premise of Susan Meddaugh's successful Martha Speaks PBS cartoon series, this venerable magazine cartoon character has been reborn as a talking dog in the movie and its Level 1 emergent reader titled Marmaduke: Meet Marmaduke (I Can Read Book 1) (Harper, 2010).

In this entry into their classic I-Can-Read, series, the gigantic Great Dane ("Call me Duke"), cast here as the lonely guy shunned because of his enormous size, seeks friends at the dog park. There he is rescued from Bosco the bully and a trio of turf-guarding Dobermans by a sympathetic pack led by the thoughtful Maizie and her sidekicks Raisin and Guiseppe. Invited over to party with them, right away Marmaduke knows that he has at last found his own buddies to hang with at the dog park daily.

Both of these short and easy books for the earliest readers make use of the incentive that a popular movie offers for kids who need to keep their skills up during the summer. And if you are among the three or four families in the country who haven't already seen these popular movies, you can also work that popular parental ploy, "Read the book first and then we'll take in the movie!"

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Night Owl: Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep by Mo Willems

Already togged out in her lavender nightie, with her blankie and pillow in hand, Cat the Cat calls out her five-minute warning to her friends. All are way ahead of her, however. Pig the Pig is scrubbing up in a sudsy bedtime bath, Giraffe has his toothbrush in hand, and Crab the Crab has already fetched his nighttime drink of water.

Then Cat the Cat walks into an embarrassing situation when she steps in to call time on Horse the Horse, seated on, er, the bathroom porcelain throne:



Flustered, Cat the Cat averts her gaze politely and moves on to Shark the Shark, who is way ahead of her, his plush bedtime pal Pigeon wryly in hand.

Then Cat moves on to her next announcee, Owl the Owl:

"TIME TO --!"

Hey, wait! Cat the Cat is temporarily speechless as she surveys Owl on his perch with eyes wide open. Obviously, she is off-base in calling sleepy time for Owl.

As the seven friends line up for the sleepover in their sleeping bags and bid each other a good night, Owl moves into line and--eyes wide--keeps watch over them all night long from his perch.

Mo Willems' latest, Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! (Cat the Cat) (Balzer & Bray, 2010) continues this wonderful series of very early readers. In a total word count of only 51 words, including speech balloons, Willems manages some sly wit and a surprise ending, along with his elemental black-line and watercolor illustrations filled with personality, in a book just perfect for those emergent readers just beginning to decode the language.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Insomniac Owlet: "I'm Not Sleepy!" by Jonathan Allen




But Baby Owl grumps right back that he is NOT the least bit sleepy!

Sitting on the limb outside his tree hollow, Baby Owl stretches sleepily and Gray Squirrel observes that he surely looks sleepy, but he explains that he just strengthening his wings for the flying lessons coming soon. He settles back down on his limb and can't quite stifle a big yawn. Mouse notices and points out the fact that big yawns mean he's a sleepy little owl. Nope, Baby Owl insists that he's just finding his present company lacking in the excitement little owls need.

Mouse gives up and Baby Owl settles down again. Unfortunately, his eyelids creep shut and he begins to nod off, just as Woodpecker lands on the opposite side of the tree trunk and begins his morning drill.



Baby Owl is blasted awake. Woodpecker is apologetic, pleading that he had no idea there was a sleepy little owlet on the other side of that tempting tree trunk.


Baby Owl's shout of protest brings Papa Owl to check out the situation. Baby Owl is furious with everyone for telling him is supposed to be sleepy when he knows he's NOT.

But Papa, as always, knows what to do with an adamant little owl. When he proposes a storytime, Baby Owl snuggles right down.


And Papa Owl can't help smiling as Baby Owl finally goes quickly and gently into his version of that good night.

Jonathan Allen's newest book in his Baby Owl series, "I'm Not Sleepy!" (Hyperion, 2010) as just as endearing as its predecessors, I'm Not Scared!, I'm Not Cute!. and "I'm Not Santa!" Baby Owl is everyone's stubborn little toddler whose wise papa knows just the right words to soothe the situation. With an easy text, an incredibly cute main character, and adorable endpapers, this one is just right for a reluctant bedtime-goer's bedtime story.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Besting Beach-a-Phobia: Ladybug Girl At The Beach by David Soman




But sometimes big brothers are more than a source of put downs for little sisters, and the enthusiastic Ladybug Girl has her wings clipped a bit when she first confronts the awe and power of the ocean up close and personal. The waves are, well, overwhelming, and she finds herself retreating up the sand to Mom's beach towel while big brother hits the surf.




Lulu hates to admit to Mom and her brother that she's afraid, so she feigns an overwhelming desire to fly her kite, walk on the beach, go for ice cream, and build a sand castle, taking her buddy, Basset hound Bingo, and hauling her beloved pail and shovel to what looks like a super spot.




It's a surprising setback, and Ladybug Girl scurries back to the safety of the sand. No one seems to notice her scary experience, so she decides to collect buried treasure, and she and Bingo soon start to fill her pail with flotsam and jetsam. Then as she wades in the ripples along the edge, she sees something alarming.


Without considering her fears, Ladybug Girl wades into the surf bravely and saves her pail. Suddenly she realizes she's in over her knees and that the water is fine. Ladybug Girl is not afraid!

David Soman's and Jacky Davis' newest Ladybug Girl at the Beach (Dial, 2010) features his plucky polka-dotted heroine in a gentle introduction to overcoming the common fear of the surf; Lulu unknowingly puts herself through a course of gradual desensitization therapy on the way to discovering that she is able to deal with the waves with confidence. "I told you Ladybug Girl loves the beach!" she reports to her family proudly.

Fans of Ladybug Girl will find this latest sequel to this popular series an evocative and welcome day at the beach. Other titles in this popular series include Ladybug Girl, Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, and Ladybug Girl Dresses Up!

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