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.