Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Granny Gomez and Jigsaw

Booklist (January 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 9))
Preschool-Grade 2. Granny Gomez loves her big country house—there’s room for everything, from drums to jigsaw puzzles. Though she is sometimes lonely, a pet piglet is not what she had in mind for company. Yet soon Granny and pig are watching cooking shows together and even doing puzzles (hence Jigsaw’s name). As their friendship grows, so does Jigsaw, and he soon gets stuck in cabinets and in Granny’s bass drum, and he is eventually too big to push up the stairs. So Granny Gomez builds a barn that’s perfect for Jigsaw—including a big-screen TV, puzzle shelves, and a kitchen. But that night, in their respective abodes, each realizes something’s missing, and after some thinking, Granny finds a solution, bringing a happy resolution—and reunion. Descriptive, peppy text and colorful art expressively depict spirited, gray-bunned Granny and her personality-laden porcine pal. With folksy charm and witty details, this amusing story will make for read-aloud fun, providing a warm portrayal of pets as beloved companions, however little or big.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms

Booklist (January 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 9))
Grades 4-6. Sixth-graders Ruthie and her best friend, Jack, are on a class visit to Chicago’s Art Institute, where they see the famous Thorne Rooms. Filled with incredible miniatures, the rooms, representing different time periods, fascinate Ruthie. When she finds a key that shrinks her and allows her to get inside the rooms, Ruthie wants to return as soon as possible. Jack is a willing partner, and when a way is found to shrink him, too, the adventure really begins. First-time novelist Malone carefully crafts a fantastical story with plenty of real-world elements, including Jack’s mother’s worries as she tries to make a living as an artist and the subplot of a museum security guard, who has lost something important. Jack and Ruthie find it in the rooms, which tie the past and present together. There are contrivances that make accessibility to the adventures possible, but readers will focus on the mystery, the history, and the excitement of being small.

Chester's Masterpiece

Kirkus Review starred (January 15, 2010)
Chester, Canadian cat author extraordinaire, is back for a third self-aggrandizing volume without any help from Mélanie Watt. He has hidden her art supplies AND her computer mouse (which apparently tastes like chicken). He is in full control of this outing...unfortunately, she's found a pencil and some Post-it notes. Even though he tries to tell his story, she keeps interrupting to ask for her stuff back, while Mouse (who looks suspiciously like the human author) just keeps kibitzing. Still, Chester manages to tell the tale of Supercat saving the world from Dr. Meanmouse and one about Captain Cat surviving a whale attack, unlike poor Skipper Mouse. But then the unthinkable occurs: Chester's marker runs out of ink. Watt's chunky puss with delusions of grandeur (and writing skill) helms a sorta-meta-adventure sure to delight his fans. Chester appears in full watercolor while his own "illustrations" are in his trademark red marker. There are plenty of giggles along the way, and the author's revenge (not to mention Chester's hiding place for her supplies) will elicit gales of laughter. A must purchase, especially where the first two are loved. (Picture book. 4-8)

Cat the Cat Who is That?

Booklist (March 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 14))
Preschool-Grade 1. Along with Let’s Say Hi to Friends Who Fly (2010), this upbeat title introduces young children to a new cast of animal pals. In large, bold type well-suited for brand-new readers, a narrator asks the title’s question as winsome Cat the Cat, in a sporty purple dress, says hello to her friends, whose greetings, printed in speech balloons, give a little glimpse into each new character’s personality. Mouse the Mouse is straightforward (“Hello there!”), Duck the Duck is a bit formal (“A pleasure, as always!”), and Fish the Fish is surfer-cool (“Hey, dude!”). Then Cat the Cat runs into a many-armed alien, who is busily building a tower of blocks, and the text’s easy, back-and-forth rhythm screeches to a halt: “Cat the Cat, who is THAT?” asks the narrator. “I have no idea,” is Cat’s wary answer, until she recognizes the adorable stranger as “a NEW friend!” Once again, Willems avoids heavy messages and walks right into kids’ daily lives with this exuberant, clean-lined, animation-ready title that’s sure to widen his already vast fan base.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


School Library Journal (March 1, 2010)
PreS-Gr 1-Dogs, like dinosaurs, are a surefire draw for young children, and this eponymously named picture book is bound to delight canine lovers. On the cover, a large, winsomely drawn hound, leash in mouth and begging to go out, irresistibly invites young readers to pick up the book and start turning the pages. In minimal, rhyming text, an unidentified narrator describes its favorite kinds of dogs-big, small, stripy, spotty, tough, and soft-and, along the way, offers a subtle lesson in the meaning of opposites. Expressive pencil drawings, overlaid with soft washes of watercolor on creamy stock, waggishly animate more than a dozen varieties of dogs, including an enormous, protective Great Dane; a soft and squishy bichon frise; and an energetic Dalmatian. (The endpapers identify the types of dogs portrayed.) The surprise ending reveals the identity of the narrator-a cat, which qualifies "favorite" as any hound that doesn't chase it. The pacing of the simple text and scale of the drawings lend this title equally well to preschool storytimes, lap-sharing, and emerging-reader fans of Biscuit and Dog and Bear. A winner.-Kathleen Finn, St. Francis Xavier School, Winooski, VT Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Cloud Tea Monkeys

Kirkus Review starred (February 15, 2010)
Tea, labor-intensive to harvest, is a precious commodity, but wild-growing cloud tea, found only in the highest, dangerous-to-reach mountaintops, is the most prized of all in this lyrical story based on a Chinese folktale. Readers are transported to an unnamed past and place (identified in the author's note as the Himalayan region) where Tashi's mother becomes too sick to pick tea, and Tashi and her "cloud tea monkeys" save the day. The poetic text is vividly descriptive: "...a light the color of lemons was soaking into the sky and painting out the stars." The deftly spun, emotionally resonant fairy-tale story--with its repulsive, mean plantation Overseer and at-first-intimidating Royal Tea Taster, who delights in Tashi's impossible harvest--begs to be read aloud. No design detail is overlooked, from the gorgeous cover (and its glossy, raised, curling, monkey-shaped tea steam) forward. Wijngaard's elegant, exquisitely etched gouache-and-ink illustrations of both characters and landscapes are splashed across spreads or framed on cream-colored paper with subtle geometric borders. Unlike cloud tea, an accessible treasure. (authors' note) (Picture book. 5-9)

Aunt Mary's Rose

Kirkus Review (February 15, 2010)
A nostalgic trip through one family's history centers around a hardy rose bush and Douglas, the little boy who is learning to care for it. Aunt Mary says the rose bush in her backyard has been in her family since before she was born. She cared for it just as her father asked her to, even uprooting and replanting it when the Depression forced them to move. Told through the sure, even voice of Aunt Mary, who raised her nephews Dick and Jim, Douglas's father ("That's what families do. They take care of each other"), Wood's tender memoir paints a picture of one family through the generations. Pham's sepia-toned colored watercolors, often painted to look like old-time photographs, extend the nostalgic feel and burst into full color when the story reaches Douglas's childhood in what appears to be the '50s. (Botanists will note that the shrub depicted is not the rugosa mentioned in the author's jacket bio but an actual rose, likely to be more universally recognized by children.) Children will enjoy asking their grandparents about their lives after reading about Douglas's extended family. A gentle slice of the past. (Picture book. 4-8)

All Star! Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever

School Library Journal (March 1, 2010)
Gr 2-5-This smartly crafted picture-book biography brings to life the Hall of Famer whose rare baseball card sold for three million dollars at a 2007 auction. Honus Wagner played for more than 20 seasons, most with the Pittsburgh Pirates; today he is recognized as one of the greatest shortstops ever. Born in 1874 to hardworking German immigrants, he lived in a hardscrabble suburb of Pittsburgh, whose skies were darkened by smoke from the city's many steel and iron mills. After sixth grade, Wagner and his brothers followed their father into the coal mines, where "he worked loading two tons of coal a day for 79 cents." Baseball offered a way out of the mines, and Wagner's natural talent and work ethic won acclaim throughout his career. With a storyteller's voice, Yolen's prose depicts the homely, bow-legged athlete: "it was said he could tie his shoes without bending over." Together with Burke's masterfully composed oil paintings, Yolen limns the athlete's strength of character whether in protecting an umpire from an unruly crowd or teaching his beloved daughters to play the game he loved so much. Another delightful oversize illustration finds Wagner awkwardly posed in a photographer's studio, his huge fielder's glove on his knee, as a group of young fans gather outside. Yolen and Burke have created an affectionate tribute to a baseball great and his times.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Booklist (September 1, 2009 (Vol. 106, No. 1))
Grades 5-8. In the Newbery Honor-winning Al Capone Does My Shirts (2004), 12-year-old Moose Flanagan, who lives on Alcatraz in 1935, appeals to inmate 85 to get his autistic sister, Natalie, into a special school. In this follow-up, it’s payback time. “Scarface,” whom Moose finally meets, is much more present here, and it turns out that Natalie’s benefactor (the famous gangster) wasn’t just being a nice guy when he offered his help. He expected favors in return, and now, Natalie is an unsuspecting, potential accomplice in a dramatic prisoner escape attempt. One of Choldenko’s many strengths is her grasp of the historically accurate language and setting, and she discusses where she exercised her artistic license in an author’s note. As life on the Rock goes on, Moose gradually realizes that family and friends are more important than baseball and that grudges rarely come to a good end. An enjoyable, stand-alone sequel.

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams

Booklist (February 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 12))
Grades 4-6. For fifth-grader Abbie, being a modern-day witch can be fun, especially when she gets to do primary research for school by time-traveling. It also brings challenges, such as hiding her family’s magical abilities. Life gets more complicated when her new kitten turns out to be 13-year-old Thomas Edison, under enchantment. Soon, Abbie’s regular worries about performing in the school play or preventing her little brother from turning into a wolf and biting his teacher give way to new concerns about how to remove Tom’s spell and return him to his own time. Abbie’s breezy, personable narrative incorporates droll asides and references to Edison’s life and to famous literature, from Alice in Wonderland to Harry Potter. Her colorfully drawn family includes her physician father, whose attempts at curing dreaded “Witch Flu” add humor and depth. Whether facing familiar issues (fitting in, sibling challenges) or fantastical ones, such as developing and using her magic responsibly, Abbie is an appealing, peppy protagonist who finds that there are “all kinds of magic in the world . . . with or without witchcraft.”

Palazzo Inverso

Booklist (February 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 12))
Grades K-3. Normally, M. C. Escher’s work is the province of eye-candy posters for college freshman, but this picture book, is a nifty homage. Hewing to the Escher method of turning perspective inside out, this invites viewers to follow young Mauk, whose master is building a grand palace. With text running along the bottom of the page, Mauk dashes up and down stairs and around corners, dodging painters dangling from ceilings and walls, until he notices that all sense of direction has become bafflingly unmoored. On the last page, it turns out that Mauk has simply turned the master’s drawing plans around a bit, and the narrative flips over to the top of the page and runs backward through the same set of visuals, this time with an entirely different meaning. Events can be a bit disorienting, but things even out by the end—which is the beginning—and presents another opportunity to spin back through the Möbius strip of the story. An undeniably impressive bit of optical trickery with an even neater narrative flip at the conclusion.

Hattie the Bad

Booklist (February 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 12))
Preschool-Grade 1. Hattie is bad for one simple reason: bad is good—because it’s fun! She has a great time breaking rules, and all the kids want to play with her. But when disapproving parents keep their children away, Hattie develops a radical idea: she will become the perfect child. She soon comes to a new realization, though: good is bad. None of the other kids wants to play with her anymore, particularly since their nagging parents hold them to Hattie’s exemplary standards. There’s only one solution: to be truly, unequivocally BAD. On live television, no less. Combining some of the thrilling mischief of Eloise and the artistic pizzaz of Olivia, Hattie is a no-holds-barred heroine whose rambunctious spirit is well matched by the conversational narrative and splashy, riotous illustrations. Grown-ups might shriek in alarm, but children will enjoy Hattie’s subversive panache.

Bridget's Beret

Booklist starred (February 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 12))
Grades K-2. Lichtenheld’s last successful effort, Duck! Rabbit! (2009), authored by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, was delightful, but more concept than story. Here, he offers a real tale to go along with a clever idea. Bridget loves drawing, but she feels what’s most important to her artistic sense is her black beret. So when the wind blows it away, Bridget is stricken. She puts up posters and files a “Missing Beret” report, but to no avail. Having lost her hat, Bridget also loses her ability to draw. One hysterical spread shows her trying on other hats to see if they inspire. A cowboy hat (“Draw, partner!”). A propeller beanie (“How uplifting”). Nope, she has “artist’s block” (a fine sidebar explains just what that is). When her sister asks Bridget to make signs for her lemonade stand, Bridget agrees to put words on paper, but no pictures. Yet that o in lemonade tempts her to color it yellow and add a leaf. Pretty soon she is drawing signs that pay homage to great artists—she has got her artistic mojo back. And her beret turns up, too. This smart, saucy book, with its spacious cartoon-style art, is both a spur to artistic endeavor and a message about inspiration and hard work. Yet the motivations are cocooned by a crackin’ good tale and tempered by a full-faceted heroine. Tips for readers about creating their own art neatly complete an already strong package that can easily be worked into the curriculum.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Whole Nother Story

Kirkus Review starred (November 15, 2009)
Three children and their inventor dad on the run from government agents, international superspies AND corporate baddies are finally forced to take a stand in this picaresque debut. Thanks largely to warnings from their psychic dog and the ability to pull up stakes in a New York minute, the Cheesemans have managed to keep themselves and father Ethan's nearly complete time machine out of the clutches of squads of bumbling but relentless pursuers since the suspicious death of mother Olivia. Their luck is about to run out, however. Freely mining C.S. Lewis and Lemony Snicket for characters and plot elements, Soup also positively channels Dave Barry for type of humor, comic timing and general style. The result is less pastiche, though, than a grand escapade centered around a close family of smart, helpful, likable characters who run into all sorts of oddball wanderers on the road and show plenty of inner stuff when push comes to shove. Which it does, in a climactic melee marked by violent crashes, numerous minor wounds and a probable segue into a sequel. Great fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

If America Were a Village

Booklist (September 1, 2009 (Vol. 106, No. 1))
Grades 3-6. Using a similar format to that of their best-selling book, If the World Were a Village (2002), Smith and Armstrong return to take a look at the “village” of the U.S. The conceit is this: there are more than 306 million people living in the U.S., a number that’s hard to visualize. So this new America is reinterpreted as a village of 100 people. Who are these people? Where do they come from, what do they believe, and what do they own? These questions are asked and answered in an oversize format that utilizes about one-third of the spread for text and the rest for warm acrylic paintings (though not as skilled as in the previous book) showing American families at work and play. The book is excellent for getting the facts out and for disabusing some common misconceptions. Take, for instance, the picture some have of a nuclear family. In fact, in this virtual village, 20 families have 2 parents, and 7 are single-parent families (with 29 children total); 10 households have just 1 person; and the remaining 14 people live in households of 2 or more unrelated people. There are some interesting comparisons with the rest of the world as well (e.g. we are only fortieth in world life expectancy). Children probably won’t pick this up on their own, but educators will find myriad uses for this well-sourced book, which includes a spread of suggested activities and discussion questions. A whole new way to think about our country.


Booklist starred (December 15, 2009 (Vol. 106, No. 8))
Grades 3-5. Logan knows that “fifth-graders are mean,” so he is determined not to let anyone at school find out about his forgetful, embarrassing grandpa, who has moved in with Logan’s family. What if his classmates spot Grandpa singing nursery rhymes or wandering around naked? Then new student Emily “the Snot” Scott gets ahold of a mortifying picture that Grandpa took of Logan, and she threatens to send it to everyone at school—unless Logan finds out the secret his best friend, Malik, has been keeping. Is Logan a ratfink? Will he give up Malik to save himself from being humiliated? Told with rapid dialogue, this novel’s gripping conflicts about loyalty, betrayal, and kindness are never simplistic, and the standoffs with family, friends, and enemies are realistic and dramatic. Jones shows that in addition to his annoyance, Logan also feels deep affection for Grandpa, who comes up with some great ideas that make Logan popular, as well as sharp insights about why Emily acts mean. Even the ending, in which Logan feels mixed about his revenge against Emily, is subtle. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this novel adds depth and complexity to the usual triumph-over-the-bullies story.

Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunders

Booklist (January 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 9))
Grades 2-4. Brash colors, quirky humor, and authentic retellings combine to make this compilation of stories about Pandora, Icarus, Demeter, Hercules, and other stars in the classical-myth canon both brilliant and engaging. Townsend balances text and visually communicated information in a way that few graphic novels for the chapter-book set seem to be able to maintain. The architecture and attire are all ancient world, while touches of contemporary humor don’t come off as overly anachronistic—the punch line to “How many centaurs does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” is “None . . . because lightbulbs don’t exist!” Other running gags include stupid sheep and funny taglines at the close of each tale. The lessons of the myths ring true, and their graphic stagings should keep readers, whether familiar with Bulfinch’s classic versions or not, enthusiastically turning the pages.

Yes Day!

Booklist (April 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 15))
Preschool-Grade 1. The word no is ubiquitous in kids’ lives. Rosenthal imagines what it would be like if for just one day adults said yes to everything children asked. The young protagonist poses a series of questions, which are answered in humorous illustrations. “Can I use your hair gel?” the child asks. A flip of the page shows the family posing for a photo with the kid’s hair in spiky triangles. The exuberant cartoon drawings take the child through the day, from pizza for breakfast to picking out junk food at the store to staying up really late. Young readers will pick up on a street sign declaring “No saying no.” The highlight of the book comes from the somber blue endpapers, which feature a monthly calendar that names a litany of days including No Way, Jose Day; Don’t Even Ask Day; and Ixnay Ayday (for pig-latinophiles). Sophisticated and clever, the calendar has a splash of yellow on the last day that proclaims “Yes Day!”