Monday, December 7, 2009

Tarra & Bella: The elephant and dog who became best friends

Booklist (October 1, 2009 (Vol. 106, No. 3))
Grades K-1. If you didn’t hear this story when it hit the TV and Internet circuits, you saved yourself a box of hankies. Tarra is a resident of the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, a natural habitat for needy elephants. As the copious photos and straightforward text explain, many of the elephants pair off into BFFs. Tarra had no such buddy until she mysteriously struck up a friendship with a dog named Bella. They did everything together: walked, played, bathed, ate, and even barked. Cute, but hardly newsworthy—until Bella hurt her spine. For two days Tarra did not move from the spot where she had alerted people of her injured friend, then she beelined for the barn where Bella was recuperating. Her vigil became the stuff of interspecies legend, and the 12-picture montage of their reunion, with Tarra’s trunk curling affectionately around the mutt, is indeed something to behold. The photos make good use of the animals’ disparity in size, and the text doesn’t strain itself by trying to make the story unnecessarily earth-shattering. A sweet and sincere offering.

Princess Hyacinth: The suprising tale of a girl who floated

School Library Journal (November 1, 2009)
PreS-Gr 2-Unless weighed down by her jewel-encrusted crown, diamond-embedded socks, or tied to her chair, Princess Hyacinth floats. Her days, encumbered as she is, are spent watching other children play in the Palace Grounds. Sometimes, Boy, whose kite is decorated with a golden crown in the Princess's honor, stops by her window to say hello. One day, in want of some adventure, Princess Hyacinth dons her heavy robe and crown and determinedly heads to the park. After convincing the Balloon Man to tie a string to her ankle, she sheds her clothes down to her Royal Underwear to float merrily among his colorful, bobbing balloons. A jubilant spread follows, depicting the Princess's airborne gyrations with great aplomb. Soon, however, while exploring a nearby familiar-looking kite, Princess Hyacinth becomes hopelessly entangled in its strings. In a sweetly satisfying ending, Boy comes to her rescue and is handsomely rewarded by the King and Queen. As for Princess Hyacinth, she is now free to float "up, up, up" in her Royal Underwear, knowing that Boy will be there to reel her in when she wants to come down. Heide's tale bubbles with effervescence, drawing readers into the fantasy with a lively, conversational text. Deftly, Smith enhances the words with a delightful whimsicality, from his clever application of perspective, range of color chosen to match the action, placement of text in varying hues, use of large topiary animal images in the gardens, and simple but effective character expressions. Princess Hyacinth is a joy from beginning to end.-Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau

Horn Book (July/August, 2009)
As sleek as a seal, Yaccarino's biography of "the world's ambassador of the oceans" uses sinuous shapes and a retro fifties palette to evoke the beauty of Cousteau's watery domain. With spot quotations from the man himself, the text succinctly numbers Cousteau's inventions (the Aqua-Lung) and achievements (The Silent World was "the first full-length, full-color underwater film ever made"), while the gouache and airbrush paintings go far to convey the allure of the deep. A full-page picture illustrating Cousteau's use of underwater lighting shows a blue seahorse caught in the beams of three lights, the whole scene awash with deep reds; a double-page, blue-toned spread of the Antarctic waters teems with marine life...and one tiny camera-wielding scuba diver almost nose-to-nose with a humpback whale. Lots of variety in picture size and page layout keeps the book dynamic; a timeline and reading list provide further information.

Crow Call

Booklist starred (October 15, 2009 (Vol. 106, No. 4))
Grades K-3. Drawing on a childhood memory, Lowry offers a story where the specific becomes universal. Lizzie’s father is back from the war, and to her, he is almost a stranger. He doesn’t even know how much she loves cherry pie. But he does understand when she picks out an unconventional adult-size hunting shirt, which at least she won’t outgrow. One cold morning, Lizzie dons her shirt and goes out with Daddy to hunt crows. Crows eat crops; of that there’s no doubt. Daddy has his shotgun. He’s given Lizzie a crow call so she can gather the birds together in the trees. In a subtle dialogue, Lizzie says things without saying the big thing on her mind: “I wish the crows didn’t eat the crops. . . . They might have babies to take care of.” Not wanting to disappoint her father, Lizzie calls the birds until they fill the sky, and then, after a breathless moment, her father, not wanting to disappoint Lizzie, takes her home. Each frame of the story is captured like an old-time movie in Ibatoulline’s tender watercolor and acrylic gouache artwork. Particularly effective is the double-page spread in which father and daughter walk among the leafless trees on that chilly autumn day, when their “words seemed etched and breakable on the brittle stillness.” In the end, words aren’t needed after all.

A Birthday for Bear

Horn Book (September/October, 2009)
Mouse may have won Bear's friendship in their picture book debut, A Visitor for Bear (rev. 3/08), but apparently he didn't change Bear's attitude. Together again, now in a book for beginning readers, Mouse is still politely persistent and Bear is as misanthropic as ever. Though Bear insists it's not his birthday, Mouse has a party invitation that says differently. "'Let me see that!' demanded Bear...'This is your handwriting!'" Bear sweeps Mouse out the door and carries on with his housework; he's "always very, very busy on his birthday." Mouse, as fans of the first book know, doesn't let a little antisocial behavior deter him. He comes back again and again, first disguised as a tiny deliveryman with balloons ("You are not a deliveryman...I can see your tail"), then as a mail carrier with a card, and finally as a gift-bearing mini-Santa who tricks Bear into admitting it is in fact his birthday. The witty back-and-forth between these two sparring partners is similar to that in the first book, but the easy reader format is a much better choice for a fifty-six-page illustrated story. Denton's friendly ink and watercolor pictures are just as effective here at conveying tone and emotion. Mouse's attentiveness eventually pays off, and Bear ends up enjoying his birthday party. It's amazing what homemade chocolate birthday cake and a determined friend can accomplish.

Alving Ho: Allergic to camping, hiking, and other natural disasters

Horn Book (September/October, 2009)
Fans of Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things (rev. 7/08) are treated to more of Alvin's "allergies." The not-so-intrepid second grader's fears this time involve the great (Alvin: "What's so great about it?") outdoors. When Alvin's dad takes him and little sister Anibelly on a camping trip in the woods, Alvin discovers there are things even scarier than school. Fortunately, he also learns that "a hero is someone who is willing to be scared." Look takes familiar kid traumas and troubles and ramps them up a notch, leaving them easily recognizable to young readers but a whole lot funnier. Hilarious bits include Alvin getting wrapped up Houdini-style and taped into a large box by Anibelly (who then blithely goes off with their grandfather, leaving Alvin alone and trapped) and a twenty-one-step list of "how to pitch a tent" that includes "17. Stand back and admire. 18. Go in and check it out! 19. Don't panic. 20. Find your way out of the collapsed tent." As in the first book, Pham's illustrations convey the story's humor and capture the pure joy of such things as lying in a sleeping bag under the stars, wearing a Batman ring, and coming back from a trip to "a yummy dinner of fried rice...[that] smelled like home and tasted like Chinese New Year." Readers can only hope that Alvin continues to describe in such wonderful detail his many allergic reactions.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Please, Puppy, Please

Kirkus Review (October 15, 2005)
Two adorable African-American preschoolers, a boisterous puppy and a marmalade cat are the characters in this exuberant story suitable for children from toddlers to those just learning to read a few words on their own. The two children care for the puppy as he gets into mischief: escaping from the yard, rolling in the mud, getting a bath and fetching a ball. The deceptively simple text features short, rhyming couplets of the children's pleas for the puppy to behave, interspersed with a refrain of variations of the words in the title. The words in the refrain are printed in varying type sizes corresponding to the level of the puppy's antics and the children's resulting frustration, adding an extra dimension to the repetition. Nelson employs a wide range of perspectives in his vibrant oil paintings, sometimes showing the children as the puppy would see them, from below. A memorable climactic spread (with no text) shows the puppy bringing his ball back to the children, showing that the kids really can control their puppy after all. (Picture book. 2-6)


School Library Journal (August 1, 2008)
K-Gr 3-All of the students in Miss Hawthorn's art class draw trees that are alike, except for Willow, a rosy-cheeked little girl who paints what she sees when she closes her eyes. When the rigid, unimaginative teacher tells her that blue apples do not exist, Willow brings her one the next day. "Horrid little girl," Miss Hawthorn says. Yet at Christmas the only gift Miss Hawthorn receives is from Willow. The child presents her with her beloved art book, which begins a transformation in the dour, unhappy woman. Miss Hawthorn begins to doodle and then to paint. Pictures are everywhere. When the children come back to school in January, they discover an inspired teacher in paint-smeared jeans and smock who invites them to help her change their room into a work of art. Soft-toned watercolors contrast colorful, autumn trees with the all-the-same green ones, show snow-covered trees that "broke when they could not bend," and finally present the willow tree in the art room, which is a tribute to Willow. Expressive faces show wonderment and joy as teacher and students discover-as Willow has-the intense power of imagination. This book can be read alone or read aloud and is a solid choice for elementary collections.-Mary Jean Smith, Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

The Year the Swallows Came Early

Booklist starred (February 15, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 12))
Grades 4-6. In San Juan Capistrano, the swallows return each year, but 10-year-old Eleanor, aka Groovy, is more concerned about her father, who was arrested before her eyes. It’s shocking enough to learn that he’s taken a $25,000 inheritance left to Groovy that she could have used someday for cooking school, but it’s equally hard to hear that her mother is the one who called the cops. Meanwhile, Groovy’s friend Frankie has his own parental problems. Fitzmaurice, a first-time novelist, offers readers a small, quiet, yet empowering story with an underlying message of forgiveness. The plotting is sometimes creaky. Groovy’s father is arrested for something that is seemingly not illegal, since he is the guardian of his minor daughter’s money, and he’s released from jail without a trial; but these details will be problematic for adults more than children. What all readers will appreciate are the beautiful portraits of the characters, young and old, and the way the story delicately weaves its seaside setting into the story. Groovy’s first-person narrative sensitively shows both her strength and her uncertainty, and in the end readers will understand when she finally embraces what she knows to be true: You gotta forgive.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

Booklist (February 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 11))
Grades 4-8. This young-reader’s edition of the eponymous New York Times best-seller for adults presents an abbreviated, simplified account of Mortenson’s life-saving mountain rescue by Pakistani villagers that inspired his life’s work: building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most significant in this version is the emphasis on young people, evident in new photographs of youth and in the extended interview with Mortenson’s 12-year-old daughter, Amira, who describes her overseas experiences with her parents, and then waiting at home while her father travels the world. Amira’s substantive answers show her direct involvement with her father’s work: “I got my dad to start a lunch program in some of the schools.” And they also reveal the deep, personal impact of global tensions on the family: “My dad’s a peacemaker, and some people hate him or are jealous. He has been threatened to be killed.” With all the recent buzz about Mortenson’s story, this accessible title is sure to draw attention. For the picture-book audience, suggest Mortenson’s Listen to the Wind (2009), coauthored and illustrated by Susan L. Roth.

A Taste for Red

Booklist (September 1, 2009 (Vol. 106, No. 1))
Grades 4-6. In the glut of novels about vampires and other supernatural beings, it’s refreshing to find such a slim, sharp tale. Harris’s debut offers up an appealing sixth-grade narrator, recently moved with her parents to suburban California, who believes she’s a vampire. How else can Svetlana (formerly Stephanie) explain her desire for red foods, heightened senses, and need to sleep under the bed? Already bewildered by her forced interaction with other students (she has previously been home-schooled), Svetlana is chilled to the bone when her last teacher of the day, a raven-haired, ivory-skinned stunner, can read her thoughts. But Svetlana can pick up on Ms. Larch’s unsavory smell—“There was a whiff of something slightly rotted about her”—and Svetlana’s elderly neighbor convinces her that Larch is the vampire and that she, Svetlana, must destroy her. With concision and wit, Harris has great fun with Svetlana’s wry narration, the dastardliness of Ms. Larch, and Svetlana’s efforts to convince two nerdy boys to help combat a great force of evil. A tasty read indeed.

Sparrow Girl

Booklist (January 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 9))
Grades K-3. In 1958, Chairman Mao declared war on sparrows. He blamed them for devouring the nation’s wheat crop, and he required all citizens, armed with pots and pans and firecrackers, to take to the streets and literally scare the birds to death. The successful campaign brought on a plague of locusts and a three-year famine that resulted in the deaths of almost 40 million Chinese. The author takes these actual events as inspiration for a resonant, contemporary fable about Ming-Li, a girl who feels for the sparrows under attack, defies the leader, and rescues seven birds as they fall from the sky. Pennypacker strikes a suitably moralistic tone and tells her story with rich, descriptive detail. Tanaka matches the somber elegance of the text with opaque, folk-inspired paintings in a subdued palette. An author’s note explains the difficult facts behind the story. Opposite the grave historical account, though, is an uplifitng image: on a field of white, a small nest with seven eggs promises the hope that springs from the simple actions of one empathetic heart.

The Plot Chickens

School Library Journal (March 1, 2009)
K-Gr 2-Henrietta the chicken, star of Souperchicken (Holiday House, 2003), is an avid library user and decides that because reading is so much fun, "writing books must be eggshilarating." She finds a manual of writing rules and creates her own story-with the unsolicited help of the other fowl. When it is rejected by a publisher, Henrietta decides to self-publish. She takes a copy to her librarian, who tells her to send it to The Corn Book Magazine for review. Henrietta gets another rejection: "odoriferous." Then she wanders into the library at storytime and sees that her book was chosen best of the year by the children. Henrietta is asked to read it aloud. "She read with dramatic expression. Of course, all the children heard was BUK, BUK, BUK.." The illustrations, a combination of oil paints and digital technology, are bold and colorful. The pictures are busy, with Henrietta at her typewriter while her friends cavort around her. There are imagined scenes in cloud shapes, word balloons, and jokes aplenty. A droll chicken with a repeating line adds to the humor. This offering works on two levels. It's a funny picture book that could be used as a manual on writing.-Ieva Bates, Ann Arbor District Library, MI Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Standing For Socks

Booklist (March 15, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 14))
Grades 4-6. When Fara Ross accidentally wears mismatched socks to school one day, everybody talks. But, she realizes, continuing to mismatch is a fun way to promote her ideals: freedom of expression, originality, and celebrating differences. However, as her sock fame spreads from the classroom to the community, she worries that the novelty is overtaking her purpose. When she runs for sixth-grade president, the attention backfires and impacts both the election and her friendships, and Fara wonders if she’ll ever be known as more than “sock girl.” Fara’s appealing, lively, third-person narrative occasionally highlights other characters’ experiences and includes local newspaper articles. Readers will appreciate the familiar scenes at home and school, from dealing with a class nemesis to feeling pigeonholed and working through friendship issues. Though the sock theme, carried out in frequent puns (“Sockinental Congress”), occasionally seems forced, this enjoyable debut novel includes diverse characters and thought-provoking ideas that will engage young people. Readers will recognize Fara’s growing awareness of herself and the rewards of working with others for support and positive change.

The Magician's Elephant

Booklist starred (July 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 21))
Grades 4-7. From the unexpectedly miraculous feats of a two-bit illusionist to the transformative powers of love, forgiveness, and a good mutton stew, there is much magic afoot in this fablelike tale from the author of the Newbery-winning Tale of Despereaux (2003). In DiCamillo’s fifth novel, a young orphan named Peter Augustus Duchene suspects that the sibling he long thought dead is actually alive. Peter seeks out the services of a fortune-teller, who informs him that his younger sister, Adele, lives and—even more astoundingly—that an elephant will lead him to her. The winter-worn city of Baltese seems the last place Peter could expect to find such an exotic creature, but that very night a magician performing at the local opera house conjures one out of thin air, a wondrous but cataclysmic event that proves to have dire consequences. When the displaced elephant is put on public display, Peter is so stirred by her obvious suffering that he is compelled to risk the one chance he has of finding Adele to set things right. Although the novel explores many of the same weighty issues as DiCamillo’s previous works, characters here face even more difficult hurdles, including the loss of loved ones, physical disabilities, and the cost of choices made out of desperation and fear. The profound and deeply affecting emotions at work in the story are buoyed up by the tale’s succinct, lyrical text; gentle touches of humor; and uplifting message of redemption, hope, and the interminable power of asking, What if? Tanaka’s charming black-and-white acrylic illustrations have a soft, period feel that perfectly matches the tone of this spellbinding story.

The Last Olympian

Horn Book (July/August, 2009)
The battle between the Olympians and the Titan Kronos (inhabiting the body of the demigod Luke) comes to a head in this fifth (and final) installment of the Percy Jackson saga. Percy and the other demigod campers at Camp Half-Blood are running military raids on Kronos's monster forces, but Poseidon is under attack, a Titan disguised as a storm system is bearing down on Olympus in New York City, and Percy's sixteenth birthday, on which it is prophesied that he will make a fateful choice, is approaching. Faced with overwhelming odds, Percy follows Achilles's route, dipping himself in the Styx to achieve near-invulnerability, and becomes an unstoppable leader for the demigod defenders as the monsters attack New York. It is Percy's visions of Luke's past life and his friend Annabeth's involvement, however, that help him make his birthday choice. Once young and unsure, Percy and his friends have matured into battle-tested veterans with easy strength and a foxhole sense of humor, a summer-blockbuster sensibility that helps explain the popularity of the series. The companions who aided Percy through his adventures in the previous books are strong allies here, and Percy's romance with Annabeth, long in the cards, heats up at last. At book's end, Kronos is defeated and peace reigns -- but there are enough openings to believe the demigods will still be adventuring long after this popular series has drawn to its conclusion.

How To Raise Mom & Dad

Booklist (March 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 13))
Grades K-3. Grown-ups need lots of green vegetables, especially spinach, so if you eat less, there will be more for them. In this irreverent picture book, an older sister shows a preschool boy how to help her manipulate their parents. Exercise is healthy for grown-ups, the sister says, so when you need to talk with Mom and Dad, shout really loudly from your room and ask them to come to you; don’t go to them. The girl says that her advice is all for Mom and Dad’s own good, of course, although she also demonstrates how to nag for a puppy (“Ask for things . . . ask for things . . . ask for things again”), and how to interpret the meaning of “no” and “we’ll see.” Some of the humorous scenarios may appeal more to parents, who will recognize their own child-raising challenges. But the colorful cartoon pictures of the big-eyed family will draw kids, as will the story’s exploration of sly power games that undermine authority and put the young ones in charge.

The Dunderheads

Booklist (June 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 19))
Grades 3-5. Browbeaten by one of the more frightful teachers imaginable (among other deterrents, she keeps an electric chair in the classroom), a group of misfits endeavor to stage a mini-coup in this outlandish older-reader picture book. As the mastermind narrator notes, if Miss Breakbone’s first mistake was calling them all “fiddling, twiddling, time-squandering, mind-wandering, doodling, dozing, don’t-knowing dunderheads,” her second mistake was having appreciation for each of their unique talents. And talented they are, as each kid in the class contributes his or her specialized skills to sneak into her heavily fortified lair and recapture a trinket she’d grifted off of a boy nicknamed Junkyard. Pencil lays out the blueprints, Spider and Clips get the kids over the wall, and Google-Eyes hypnotizes their way past the guard dogs. You can almost hear the Pink Panther theme thrumming in the background. Roberts’ illustrations match Fleischman’s quirky tale tone-for-tone, drafting each kid in a signature style and breaking up page compositions to bring some pizazz to the caper. A fun, stick-it-to-teacher romp with no redeeming message, but cleverness in spades

Down Down Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea

Booklist (April 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 15))
Grades 2-4. In this plunge into the deep, Jenkins displays his usual keen awareness of what is fascinating about biology and imparts it without sensationalism—the facts speak for themselves. Light becomes an impossibility only a tiny fraction of the way down into the ocean, and the deeper this book goes, the darker the palette and the scarier and stranger the beast encountered. Sophisticated cut- and torn-paper collage-work fit the alien qualities of the subjects well; it’s equally at home capturing the tiered needlepoints of lizardfish teeth as it is delivering an impressive and illuminating display of bioluminescence. The scale of just how staggeringly deep the ocean is, and how little we know of much beyond what happens at the surface, is conveyed by sidebars on each page that drop precipitously from sea level to the ocean floor many miles below. Thorough endnotes give greater detail on each of the featured creatures and help make this a most welcome introduction to the sometimes-surprising world of marine biology.

Dot In Larryland: the big little book of an odd-sized friendship

Kirkus Review (December 1, 2008)
A wee girl and a gargantuan boy prove that pals come in all sizes in this offbeat exploration of friendship. Miniature Dot is "just one jot bigger than invisible" while extra-large Larry's so huge he doesn't realize he's standing in a puddle until the next day. Both are "totally miserable" and lonesome in a "BIG way," because they can't find friends their own size. Dot's invitations to grains of sand and fleas and Larry's overtures to a house, a tree and a cloud are similarly rebuffed. But one day when Larry's consuming his usual enormous breakfast, the teeny, sneezing Dot flies out of his pepper shaker and the unlikely duo meet and discover they have a lot in common. Chast's hilarious cartoon-like pen, ink and watercolor illustrations exaggerate the outrageous disparity in size between protagonists, showing mini-Dot scaling a blade of grass and maxi-Larry towering over his landscape. Marx's breezy, tongue-in-cheek text bristles with humorous metaliterary asides (Dot's half of the story is in verse, but Larry's is not, for instance), but successfully shows that size doesn't matter between friends. Eccentric fun. (Picture book. 5-8)

The Bone series

Publishers Weekly (February 7, 2005)
The nine-volume Bone graphic novel series was the toast of the comics world when it was published by Smith's own Cartoon Books beginning in the early 1990s; in this first volume of Scholastic's new edition, the original b&w art has been beautifully converted into color. Smith's epic concerns three blobby creatures who have stumbled into a valley full of monsters, magic, farmers, an exiled princess and a huge, cynical dragon. The story is something like a Chuck Jones version of The Lord of the Rings: hilarious and action-packed, but rarely losing track of its darker subtext about power and evil. This volume is the most lighthearted of the bunch, though, featuring some of the wittiest writing of any children's literature in recent memory-a few of Smith's gags are so delicious that he repeated them for the rest of the series. It also introduces the Bone cast's unforgettable supporting characters: the leathery, tough-as-nails, racing-cow-breeding Gran'ma Ben; the carnivorous but quiche-loving "rat creatures"; a spunky trio of baby opossums; and Ted the Bug, whose minimalist appearance (a tiny semicircle) exemplifies Smith's gift for less-is-more cartooning. The way his clear-lined, exaggerated characters contrast with their subtle, detailed backgrounds is a product of his background in animation, and so is his mastery of camera angles and choreography. This is first-class kid lit: exciting, funny, scary and resonant enough that it will stick with readers for a long time. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

100 Cupboards

Kirkus Review (November 15, 2007)
Henry York awakens one night to find that two knobs have popped out of the plaster at the head of his bed. Having lived a sheltered existence thanks to his overprotective parents, the boy is currently staying with his aunt, uncle and cousins and is up for a little adventure. Scraping the wall reveals 99 cupboards of varying shapes and sizes, each one a connection to another world. Unfortunately, opening one of the doors means the release of an unspeakably evil presence, causing the secrets of both the cupboards and Henry's past to come to light in the face of great danger. Wilson takes the concept of finding a door to another realm and simply extends it to its logical extreme. The result is a highly imaginative tale that successfully balances its hero's inner and outer struggles. Wilson's writing is fantastical, but works with clever sentences and turns of phrase that render it more than just another rote fantasy. The ending concludes the adventure satisfactorily but leaves plenty of room for a sequel. (Fantasy. 9-14)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Reader's Bill of Rights

The Reader's Bill of rights
1. The right not to read.
2. The right to skip pages.
3. The right to not finish.
4. The right to reread.
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to mistake a book for real life.
7. The right to read anywhere.
8. The right to dip in.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right to be quiet
Daniel Pennac - The Reader's Rights

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me

Booklist starred (April 15, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 16))
Grades 3-6. It is rare to have a story told with sympathy from the viewpoint of a bully. This debut novel, set in upstate New York in the summer of 1969, does just that with wit and a light touch that never denies the story’s sorrows. Tammy, 10, is stuck at home with her cold parents while her brother is away in Vietnam. In her first-person narrative, she reveals the hurt and loneliness that fuel her anger as she targets the new, skinny kid, Douglas, who has moved into a foster home on the block. She mocks him for telling wild lies: he is training for the Olympics; his uncle is Neil Armstrong, about to walk on the moon; and more. The other kids, including the snotty girls from the loving family next door, let him be. Why is Tammy so furious? Gradually the reader sees that she blames Douglas for the disappearance of her beloved only friend, a foster kid who moved away without telling Tammy why and where she was going. Douglas is a bit too nice, but he messes up when he tries to help Tammy, and many readers will recognize the muddled and caring gestures among friends and enemies.

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-You Notes

Horn Book (September/October, 2008)
Moxy Maxwell's mother warns her that unless she finishes writing all twelve of her Christmas thank-you notes before traveling to Los Angeles to visit her big-shot Hollywood mover-and-shaker father, there will be "consequences." Moxy, a cross between Walter Mitty and Lucy Ricardo for the beginning-chapter-book set, pursues her typical rounds of procrastination, daydreaming, and scheming, assisted by her entourage: her five-year-old sister, Pansy, and her Moxy-worshiping neighbor, Sam. Mayhem eventually ensues, some of which results in an out-of-control photocopier, a broken La-Z-Boy chair, and accidental living room vandalism with forbidden gold spray paint. As with the first book in the series, Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little (rev. 9/07), amusing photographs (taken in the story by Moxy's twin brother Mark) accompany the writing and enhance many of the funniest moments, and playful chapter titles foreshadow upcoming mini-disasters. There are a few developments: stepfather Ajax, who was more of a background presence in the original, is given a more prominent role, and the plot touches upon such noncomedic subjects as absentee parents and blended families. In the end, while not fully reformed, Moxy gives an indication that she is making some progress, although not too much: readers can expect to delight in her future grandiose schemes and reveries.

Booklist (May 15, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 18))
Grades 2-4. Lasky’s biographical picture book imagines a day in the latter years of Georgia O’Keeffe’s life on Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Waking before sunrise, the aging artist dresses and heads to the desert to paint in the lavender light of the approaching dawn. As the day passes, Georgia continues to find artistic inspiration in her surroundings, from the changing color of the sky to a piece of bleached-white bone. Filled with vivid sensory detail, Lasky’s poetic text conveys, through the everyday moments of Georgia’s solitary life in the southwestern desert, the painter’s unfailing desire to express the beauty of the natural world as she saw it. Eitan’s accompanying paintings are composed of flat swatches of rich, opaque color, and the sophisticated economy of detail is particularly appealing when evoking the stark beauty of the arid landscape. Concluding pages present a brief history of O’Keeffe’s life, an author’s note, and a selected bibliography. A fresh complement to the superb picture-book biographies My Name Is Georgia, by Jeanette Winter (1998) and Through Georgia’s Eyes, by Rachel Rodriguez (2006).

Booklist starred (May 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 17))
Grades 4-7. Growing up with six brothers in rural Texas in 1899, 12-year-old Callie realizes that her aversion to needlework and cooking disappoints her mother. Still, she prefers to spend her time exploring the river, observing animals, and keeping notes on what she sees. Callie’s growing interest in nature creates a bond with her previously distant grandfather, an amateur naturalist of some distinction. After they discover an unknown species of vetch, he attempts to have it officially recognized. This process creates a dramatic focus for the novel, though really the main story here is Callie’s gradual self-discovery as revealed in her vivid first-person narrative. By the end, she is equally aware of her growing desire to become a scientist and of societal expectations that make her dream seem nearly impossible. Interwoven with the scientific theme are threads of daily life in a large family—the bonds with siblings, the conversations overheard, the unspoken understandings and misunderstandings—all told with wry humor and a sharp eye for details that bring the characters and the setting to life. The eye-catching jacket art, which silhouettes Callie and images from nature against a yellow background, is true to the period and the story. Many readers will hope for a sequel to this engaging, satisfying first novel.

The Curse of the Ancient Mask: and Other Case Files

Booklist (May 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 17))
Grades 3-5. Saxby Doyle Christie Chandler Ellin Allan Smart, whose father loves crime novels, has cut his literary teeth on great detective stories and developed a schoolyard reputation as a sleuth. In the first case related here, a classmate arrives at the door of Saxby’s Crime Headquarters (backyard shed) and announces that her father is cursed by an ancient mask, accused of industrial espionage, and faced with losing his job. In the second, three students find their homework assignments sabotaged. In the third and final case, a girl is accused of stealing jewelry. Confident, though occasionally baffled, the young detective organizes the evidence methodically and, in each case, solves the mystery. Even better, careful readers can do the same. Expressive ink drawings help bring the occasionally quirky characters to life. After reading this well-paced and sometimes funny first-person narrative, young mystery fans will be looking for the second volume in the Saxby Smart Private Detective series.

Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem

Kirkus Review starred (May 1, 2009)
Readers know what kind of place they are in when the endpapers include ads for giant-squid repellent and shrimp-of-the-month club and the author and illustrator snark at each other in the dedication. Billy Twitters's room looks much as one might expect: unmade bed, piles of dirty and clean clothes, video games, books, backpack and stuffed toys everywhere. Billy's mom tells him plainly that he's to clean up his room and finish his dinner or "we're buying you a blue whale." He doesn't, and they do. While Rex never reveals the faces of the adults, he does provide nicely detailed diagrams of the size and habits of the blue whale (from FedUp, "Delivering Punishment Worldwide"). Billy has to take his whale everywhere, even though the whale kind of wrecks the classroom and moves Alexis to un-invite Billy and the whale to her pool party. However, the prospect of feeding his whale inspires Billy to a damp and fishy but very boylike solution to the problem of both room-cleaning and whale-sitting. Definitely funny and slyly subversive. (Picture book. 5-8)

Itty Bitty by Cece Bell

Booklist starred (July 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 21))
Preschool-Grade 1. A tiny dog named Itty Bitty finds an enormous bone and, after chewing door and window holes in it, hollows it out to make a house. The empty bone doesn’t feel quite homelike, though, so Itty Bitty drives into the city to visit a department store. Beyond the gigantic chairs and rugs, he finds the TEENY-WEENY Department, where he chooses “an itty-bitty table and an itty-bitty rug . . . / an itty-bitty sofa and an itty-bitty lamp.” There’s even an itty-bitty book. He carts his purchases away and turns his empty bone into a cozy home. In the colorful ink-and-acrylic illustrations, Bell uses line, color, texture, and white space extremely effectively to create this diminutive character and his world. Itty Bitty, drawn with a highly simplified body and stick legs, is dwarfed by the daisies and grass surrounding his home and sometimes appears quite vulnerable (and who wouldn’t be, driving a three-wheeled, walnut-shell vehicle among full-size cars?). But more often, this small, stalwart character looks as capable and confident as every young child would like to feel. With its irresistible repetitions of “itty-bitty” and occasional comments in speech-balloons, the simple text reads aloud well. Unpretentious, endearing, and enormously satisfying, this little book is one that children will ask for again and again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Reading

Our Riddle library was open several times this summer, and I am happy to tell you that almost 2,000 books were checked out! What great Riddle readers! We had so much fun reading stories and sharing books. I loved watching wagons full of books being taken home this summer instead of collecting dust!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Booklist (October 15, 2008 (Vol. 105, No. 4))
Grades 5-8. This book expands upon the premise of The Glitch in Sleep (2007), in which a mirror world called the Seems constructs and maintains the machinery that governs our own, with a massive bureaucracy charged with everything from keeping the Seconds rolling along smoothly to painting properly glorious sunsets and delivering Little Unplanned Changes of Kismet (L.U.C.K.). When a rebel organization plants a Time Bomb that threatens to destroy the inner workings of our universe, Becker Dran, the talented, teenage “Fixer,” finds himself in desperate need of help to set things right. With increasingly severe time storms wreaking havoc worldwide, it looks like only the elusive Time Being herself has the power to help; can Becker track her down and persuade her to lend a hand? Yes, as it turns out, and no. This sequel continues to develop a truly ingenious setting while proving every bit as much of a nail-biter as the first. Becker and his allies come through in the end, but the close brings signs of impending disaster on an even vaster scale. Stay tuned.

The Real Princess: A Mathemagical Tale

School Library Journal (June 1, 2008)
Gr 1-4-Three princes, Primo, Secundo, and Terzo, are in need of brides, but only the oldest must find a real princess-one fit to be the next queen. When two bedraggled young women arrive during storms, Secundo and Terzo become enamored of them, and marry them even though they are not quite real-they do not feel the gold peas that the queen has placed under many mattresses. Finally a real princess's sleep is disturbed by the presence of a solitary pea. The king and queen have parted with all of their gold, but that solitary pea provides them with a fresh source of income. The story, referred to as a traditional tale rather than attributed to Hans Christian Andersen, is liberally laced with numbers, all highlighted by a different font. Children can count the windows in the castle, add up the number of servants, determine how much gold is remaining, and perform other tasks suggested at the back of the book. The text flows nicely and the illustrations, done in acrylics and collaged papers, are intricately detailed and will invite children to pore over them repeatedly. A nice twist on the original with opportunities for readers to interact with the text.-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Traction Man Meets Turbodog

Kirkus Review starred (August 15, 2008)
Anyone who has read Traction Man Is Here (2005) knows that the toy action-figure's beloved pet Scrubbing Brush could never, ever be replaced by the battery-operated "generic robotic hound" Turbodog™. No, Traction Man needs Scrubbing Brush. Turbodog can't even cross the wastes of the Sandpit without gumming up his works or sneak up on Tiddles the cat without blurting "STOP INTRUDER!" Where is Scrubbing Brush, anyway? The muck-ridden brush has been jettisoned into the Dark and Terrible Underworld of the Bin, from whence nothing has ever returned alive. Traction Man, hearing a cry from said Bin, braves angry fries and spaghetti with eyes ("Ssssstay with usssss") to save him. "No one smothers my brave pet with vegetable peel!" Traction Man proclaims protectively, and almost everyone lives happily ever after. Comic-book-style frames with captions on torn-out bits of graph paper can only loosely contain the ebulliently superheroic adventures of one boy's toys. Hilarious details lurk throughout, and readers won't want to miss even one. (Picture book. 6-9)

The Runaway Dolls

School Library Journal (October 1, 2008)
Gr 3-5-A mysterious package addressed to Grandma Palmer's grandfather arrives at the Palmer home while they are on vacation. Kate's doll, Annabelle, and her sister's doll, Tiffany Funcraft, deduce that the package contains the Doll family's missing baby. They open the package to find that Matilda is indeed Annabelle's lost sister. But how do they keep the family from sending her back? Since the package is not addressed to the Palmers, they might not open it, and the baby will be lost forever. Annabelle decides the only solution is to run away with her new sibling to save her from this fate. Annabelle, her brother Bobby, Tiffany, and her brother Bailey join the adventure and find themselves lost in the woods and then trapped in a toy store. The adventure takes a dangerous and mysterious turn when dolls begin to disappear from the store each night. The story opens with Selznick's 12-page illustrated, wordless prologue, and his art moves the story along throughout the book. This fun, magical entry in the series is just as engaging as the previous books.-Debra Banna, Sharon Public Library, MA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.


Horn Book (November/December, 2008)
As in Broach's earlier novel Shakespeare's Secret, high art, deep intrigue, and warm friendship converge. James's eleventh birthday party is such a depressing affair that Marvin, an extroverted kitchen beetle, can't resist secretly making him a present. The elegant miniature cityscape he draws (with two front legs dipped in ink) is mistaken for James's work, leading the boy and the beetle to form an unlikely (and, on the beetle's part, silent) friendship. Soon the two visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a show of Albrecht Durer -- whose work Marvin's drawing resembles to an astonishing degree -- and become embroiled in the world of art forgery and theft. Echoes of Selden's Cricket in Times Square, Norton's The Borrowers, Balliett's Chasing Vermeer, and the inimitable E. B. White's Charlotte's Web sound throughout; the derring-do adventures and ethical conundrums the two protagonists face grow organically from a remarkable friendship and make for an engrossing story.

The Hinky-Pink

School Library Journal (August 1, 2008)
Gr 2-4-Anabel is a seamstress in Old Italy who dreams of making a dress worthy of a princess. Isabella Caramella Gorgonzola is a princess who gives the girl one week to make her a dress worthy of the Butterfly Ball. Locked in the tower sewing room, Anabel finds the finest silk, chiffon, and crepe as well as gold scissors, thread that is clear as glass, and a silver thimble. Unfortunately, she also shares the room with a Hinky-Pink that pinches her at night, steals her covers, and makes sleep impossible. When Anabel is "chill as a fish and can't sew a stitch," the nursemaid advises her to make the Hinky-Pink a bed of its own. After many unsuccessful attempts, Anabel fashions a tiny bed from her silver thimble, and the Hinky-Pink hums happily. Having slept "the sleep of a princess without a pea," she sews the perfect dress in a single day. Illustrations are done in watercolor and ink and feature a warm palette of rose, peach, and gold tones. Actual landmarks are used to make Firenze come alive, while Italian words and phrases are scattered throughout, sometimes placed in speech bubbles. McDonald's flawless storytelling melds with Floca's joyous art, bringing new life to Margery Bailey's "The Bed Just So" from Whistle for Good Fortune (Little, Brown, 1948). Girls who love princess stories will adore this lively tale.-Mary Jean Smith, Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Greetings from Nowhere

Kirkus Review (February 1, 2008)
The lives of four families change when they intersect at a run-down motel in the middle of nowhere. For years Aggie and her late husband operated the Sleepy Time Motel in the Great Smoky Mountains. Alone now and facing a drawer of unpaid bills and endless repairs on the dilapidated motel, Aggie reluctantly puts a "For Sale" ad in the paper. Eager for a new life since his wife left, Clyde makes an offer on the motel and uproots his lonely daughter Willow to the Sleepy Time. A troubled kid, Kirby and his mom are en route to a special boys' school when their car breaks down and they show up at the motel. Filled with questions about her birth mother who has recently died, Loretta and her adoptive parents arrive at the Sleepy Time on a family vacation. As these unlikely folks come together in Aggie's tumbledown motel, they find something they need through the friendships that form. O'Connor artfully weaves together the hopes, fears, disappointments, sorrows and joys of her multi-generational cast to produce a warm and satisfying conclusion. (Fiction. 10-14)

First The Egg

Kirkus Review starred (September 1, 2007)
A deceptively simple, decidedly playful sequence of statements invites readers to ponder, what comes first: the chicken or the egg? Carefully choreographed page turns and die-cuts focus on the process of change and becoming, so "First" sits alone on a yellow background, facing "the EGG"--an egg-shaped die-cut revealing a white egg against an orange-and-brown background. Turn the page, and "then" appears, the egg-shaped die-cut now forming the yellow body of a chick emerging from the shell, facing "the CHICKEN"--the white hen whose body gave color to the previous spread's egg. Tadpole and frog, seed and flower, caterpillar and butterfly all receive the same treatment, then word and story, paint and picture bring all the disparate elements together, nature being the catalyst for art. Seeger's vibrant, textured oil-on-canvas illustrations contain a wealth of subtlety, allowing the die-cuts to reveal cunning surprises with each turn of the page. Children and adults alike will delight in flipping the sturdy pages back and forth to recreate the transformations over and over again. Another perfectly pitched triumph from an emerging master of the concept book. (Picture book. 2-6)

School Library Journal (August 1, 2005)
Gr 1-4-Motham City is abuzz with the kidnapping of Queenie Bee, and Ace Lacewing, the Sam Spade of insects, is on the case. His motto is, "Bad bugs are my business." Lacewing follows the trail of honey with the help of his gal, Doctor Xerces Blue, and Sergeant Zito, a mosquito. A motley (and sometimes molting) assortment of suspects is questioned. Their character traits are based on facts: "The roaches said of course they ran from the scene of the crime-it was their nature to scatter when the lights go on." Puns and wordplay abound: "I've known him ever since we were pupae at the same school"; "The full moon hung in the sky like a large compound eye...." The digitally enhanced illustrations evoke a film noir atmosphere, with moody blue and black backgrounds. The pages are also brimming with humorous details such as glowworm street lamps, "Bug Off" police tape, and "Slow Larvae" road signs. This clever parody of hard-boiled detective stories is sure to tickle readers' thorax.-Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ontario, Canada Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Underneath

An old hound that has been chained up at his hateful owner's run-down shack, and two kittens born underneath the house, endure separation, danger, and many other tribulations in their quest to be reunited and free.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Wilbur is the only naked mole rat in his colony who enjoys wearing clothes, and when Grandpah, the oldest and most naked naked mole rat, discovers his secret, Wilbur fears he will be ostracized from the colony.
Mo Willems shares his humor with us again in this hilarious and endearing story that not only delivers many laughs, but also addresses individual expression.


Another wonderful 2009-2010 Bluebonnet book! Recounts the adventures of Mibs Beaumont, whose thirteenth birthday has revealed her "savvy"--a magical power unique to each member of her family--just as her father is injured in a terrible accident. Booklist gave this book a starred review and summarizes the book as follows: "Upon turning 13, each member of the Beaumont family develops a supernatural ability, or savvy, which must then be tamed. Well aware of the problems savvys can bring (the family had to relocate when one child had difficulty controlling his storm-producing savvy), 12-year-old Mississippi (Mibs) awaits her birthday eagerly but with a bit of trepidation. Then Poppa is seriously injured in an accident far away, and Momma goes to his side, leaving Mibs and the rest of the family to cope with Mibs’ 13th birthday on their own. Initially believing that her savvy is the ability to restore life, Mibs sets her course for Poppa. Joined by her brothers and the local preacher’s kids, she sweet talks her way onto a traveling Bible salesman’s bus. On the journey, however, Mibs realizes her savvy isn’t what she thought, which opens the way for a number of lively adventures both geographic and emotional. Law’s storytelling is rollicking, her language imaginative, and her entire cast of whacky, yet believable characters delightful. Readers will want more from Law; her first book is both wholly engaging and lots of fun."

Gollywhopper Games

This book is on the 2009-2010 Bluebonnet list, and I highly recommend it! Twelve-year-old Gil Goodson competes against thousands of other children at extraordinary puzzles, stunts, and more in hopes of a fresh start for his family, which has been ostracized since his father was falsely accused of embezzling money from Golly Toy and Game Company.