Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Crispin The End of Time

Horn Book (July/August, 2010)
Prolific storyteller Avi revisits the hero of his Newbery Medal winner, and this final volume in the Crispin trilogy showcases the same strengths as the earlier books: brisk, suspenseful narrative with effortlessly interwoven details of medieval life and provocative questions of ethics and morality. With their mentor, Bear, now dead, Crispin and Troth are left to make their way to Iceland, a place reportedly free from much of the strife of England and France. But when Troth's skill with herbs finds her a home in a convent, Crispin must journey on alone. He joins a family of traveling musicians purportedly on their way to perform at a wedding in the port city of Calais. It's a comfort to him that they speak his native language, but when their true natures as murderers, thieves, and kidnappers are revealed, Crispin must pull off a daring plan in order to escape them. It's another rousing page-turner, and it's sure to please fans of the series, who may also enjoy Kevin Crossley-Holland's Arthur trilogy and Nancy Farmer's Sea of Trolls trilogy.

The Boys

Kirkus Review starred (February 15, 2010)
It's a new town for a baseball-loving protagonist. Newman wastes not a moment, setting the stage with the title page: A lone moving truck chugs along a house-lined street, skyscrapers looming above. A white spread possessing only one word, "Tuesday," greets readers, with single brush strokes and blocks of color denoting a glove, a ball, a bat and a solitary boy lacing up his shoes. But the anticipated game is not to be, as the shy hero watches the sport longingly from afar. Crestfallen, he sits by a set of elderly men, and baseball dreams are traded for books, then costumes, as the child determinedly tries to stay on the bench of retirees--until the old-timers' ball game reawakens the boy's confidence. Effective visual storytelling realizes the aching love players can feel for the game, and in one lovely, lonely beat, the boy's self-imposed rejection turns to resolve, as the tyke asks to join in a kids' game. Through confident brushwork, done in a stylized '50s modern aesthetic, the artist's images reveal sports' deep truths about acceptance, a willingness to try and the intergenerational connections they bring. (Picture book. 4-8)

Big Nate in a Class All By Himself

Booklist (March 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 13))
Grades 3-6. Unabashedly capitalizing on the Wimpy Kid wave (with a Jeff Kinney blurb-recommendation splashed across the cover), Peirce’s book, for a slightly younger audience, uses a mix of prose and cartoons to tell a quick story about a day in the life of an extroverted, impish kid. Peirce does have comics cred on his side: his hero, Nate, has been the star of a long-running daily comic strip. He is the classic clever kid who hates school and whose antics land him in ever-hotter water with grumbly teachers. On this particular day, he wakes up feeling fine, sweats a bit about an upcoming test, then opens a fortune cookie at school that reads, “Today you will surpass all others.” So, he dutifully goes about trying to best other kids at everything but seems to only have a knack for racking up detention slips. The cartoons provide plenty of gags at the expense of various adults and classmates, and Nate’s persistent good cheer and moxie make him a likable new proxy for young misfits.

Ball Hog

Booklist (May 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 18))
Grades 2-4. Like his friend and Bobcat teammate Erin, Ben has never played soccer before, but he enjoys the practices and learns fast. However, he doesn’t enjoy playing with Mark, whose big mouth and inflated ego make him easy to dislike. Their animosity spills over onto the four-square court at recess before they begin to see the value of passing in soccer and (no coincidence) the Bobcats begin to score goals. A good sports story for younger readers, this beginning chapter book balances bits of information about playing the game with realistic scenes on the field, at home, and at school. An effective subplot portrays Ben’s shifting emotions and ethical dilemma after a friend is excluded from their regular four-square group. Beginning with tiny portraits of the team roster, lively black-and-white drawings illustrate the story. The book concludes with advice on practicing and playing the game in “Ben’s Top Tips for Soccer Players.” A promising start for the Kickers series.

The All-American Jump and Jive Jig

Booklist (April 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 16))
Grades K-2. In this dance-crazy picture book, the Rockland Sock-Hop is a hit in Maine; across the Plains, they’re doing the Midwest Wiggle; and every kid in Alaska knows the Juneau Jitterbug. Bouncy rhymes lead young readers through the states and regions of America and describe their local dances, such as the D.C. Freeze (“While the music’s playing, dance as silly as you choose. When you hear the music stop, stand still like a statue”). Equally energetic is the bright pencil-and-watercolor artwork featuring cartoon-style children. Many illustrations offer details about the regions, from the dock where boys are practicing the Mackinac Milk Shake to the city skyline behind children performing the Brooklyn Boogie, while endpapers sport the highlighted dances across a map of the U.S. The conclusion invites readers to invent new dances from their own locales. Read this after Laurie Keller’s Scrambled States of America (1998) to get students moving as they continue the geography fun.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thanking the Moon

Kirkus Review (September 1, 2010)
Opposing the exuberant energy found by this same Chinese-American family in Bringing in the New Year (2008), the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is a much more contemplative and quiet observance. The story begins on the title page, the family in their car driving toward the moon. There is a hush as they admire the moon in the sky. Then everyone does their part to help set up the nighttime picnic. The moon-honoring table is arranged, sweet mooncakes are eaten and rounded cups of tea are carefully poured. Children then parade with bright paper lanterns, and everyone sends a secret, unspoken wish up to the moon. Not all is solemnity: "Mei-Mei plays with the pale green pomelo peel," as Ma-Ma chuckles. A gentle text and Lin's rounded art style with her signature night-sky swirls lend themselves nicely to the moon symbolism that is so very important to this celebration. An endnote further describes the festival, emphasizing families coming together, just like the moon returning to its fullness. (Picture book. 4-8)

Shark vs. Train

Booklist (April 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 16))
Preschool-Grade 1. Maybe they haven’t pitted this exact pair against one another, but there’s little doubting young boys’ ability to spend hours and considerable blocks of imagination smashing different toys together in a knock-down, drag-out battle royale for romper-room supremacy. The opening spread shows two boys digging through a toy box, each pulling out a fearsome competitor. In this corner, there’s Shark (I’m going to choo-choo you up and spit you out); and in the other, Train (Ha! I’m going to fin-ish you, mackerel-breath). The bout gets progressively more ridiculous with each escalating shift in setting and rules. Early rounds in the ocean and on the tracks are split; Shark has the upper hand on the high-dive, and Train in giving carnival rides. Neither turns out to be much good at the Extreme Zombie-Squirrel Motocross video game (no thumbs) or sword fighting on a tightrope. Barton’s imaginative and wacky scenarios are knocked home by Lichtenheld’s ferociously funny artwork and will leave kids measuring up their dump truck and T-Rex for the next tale of the tape.

Ace Lacewing Bug Detective The Big Swat

School Library Journal (July 1, 2009)
Gr 2-4-Ace Lacewing is back to solve another mystery. Scratch Murphy, the owner of Six Legs Park, is knocked unconscious by a falling toolbox-presumably the property of a disgruntled carpenter ant-and wakes to find his flea bag empty and his money gone. Ace discovers that his client has a lot of enemies, including a fly-by-night roach in the banking business; Scratch's twin brother, Scritch; and a weevil with over-the-top parenting skills. Ace's blue-eyed gal Xerces and Police Sergeant Zito "The Mosquito" are with him every step of the way. When the solution hits Ace "like a flyswatter," a run for the money ensues through the Termite Tower of Terror, Anteater Falls, and House of Mirrors. Ace's first-person narration and snappy dialogue are true to the hard-boiled detective genre, as is the cast of characters. The illustrations, done in pencil and digitally colored, fairly glow. The many insect references ("Flypaper Awareness Week" and "Keep Your Antennae and Legs Inside Ride") in the colorful spreads are a true delight. Mystery fans and insect enthusiasts will enjoy a one-on-one reading with plenty of time to savor the clever wordplay and insect-related details. They will also want to find Ace's first adventure, Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective (Charlesbridge, 2005).-Mary Jean Smith, Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Noonie's Masterpiece

Booklist (May 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 17))
Grades 3-5. Fourth-grader Noonie Norton, a self-described “brilliant artist,” is just moving from her blue period (which began after her mother’s death, four years ago) to her purple period. While her archaeologist father travels the world, she lives with Aunt Sylvia, Uncle Ralph, and cousin Junior. Navigating her fourth-grade year with help from her loyal friend Reno and her art teacher, Noonie struggles to deal with math, her imperfect family, and her too-perfect classmate Sue Ann. The school art contest becomes a catalyst for change, shifting Noonie’s views on the people in her life and moving her art into a happier, polka-dot period. Noonie may be an unreliable and even unlikable narrator at times, but her pain and vulnerability are as evident as her belief in herself as an artist, and by the end of the story, she’ll have readers in her corner. The ink-and-watercolor illustrations, appearing throughout the book, have a 1960s-retro look. Originally written and performed as a play, this is Railsback’s first novel.

Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown

Booklist (July 2010 (Online))
Grades 3-5. Elementary-schoolers Dee, Hector, and Terrence go to a sleepaway camp where the supersleuth Lunch Lady from their school happens to be working her off-season. At camp, the prepubescent boys and girls behave with developmentally appropriate lapses in social niceties: the boys crack jokes about farts, while Dee really doesn’t get why the other girls have crushes on the cute male counselors. Lunch Lady and her assistant, meanwhile, utilize imaginative foodie tech to battle the mysterious Scum Monster, including Taco-vision night goggles worn to their Salisbury stakeout. Krosoczka’s inventive visual details, spot-on characterizations, and grade-school humor make this a standout graphic-novel series.

Ling & Ting Not Exactly the Same!

Booklist starred (May 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 17))
Grades 1-2. Sisters Ling and Ting may be twins, but that doesn’t mean they’re “exactly the same,” no matter what everyone says upon first meeting them. Children will come to their own conclusions after reading the six short, interconnected stories that make up this pleasing book for beginning readers. In the first chapter, “The Haircuts,” Ling sneezes while her bangs are being cut, and for a while at least, it’s easy to tell the twins apart. The chapters that follow reveal distinct differences in the sisters’ personalities, inclinations, and abilities. Despite those differences, in the end each girl subtly affirms her affection for the other. Framed with narrow borders, the paintings illustrate the stories with restrained lines, vivid colors, and clarity. The chapters often end with mildly humorous turns, from a neat play on words to a smack-your-heard obvious solution to an apparently impossible dilemma. These endings, as well as bits of comic byplay that occur in the brief framework vignettes, will suit the target audience beautifully. Lin, whose previous books include Dim Sum for Everyone (2001) and the 2010 Newbery Honor Book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2009), shows her versatility once again in an original book that tells its story clearly while leaving room for thought and discussion.

Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol

Booklist starred (May 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 17))
Grades 4-7. A brilliant, hard-nosed, and dedicated cop for being only 13 years old, Griff Carver grimly fights the good fight as a member of his new school’s Safety Patrol in this inspired, expertly spun tale. Rampart Middle School may have a shiny reputation, but, as new transfer Griff quickly discovers, it’s rotten from the principal on down. Even Delane, the patrol’s captain, is in the back pocket of flashy arch-villain and class-president-candidate Marcus Volger. Picking up allies who see through his flinty exterior—like ace reporter Verity King, bumbling but educable fellow officer Tommy Rodriguez, and Solomon, a savvy old janitor—Griff takes it on the chin more than once but comes out on top in the end, stymied in an effort to nab Volger outright but at least breaking up his counterfeit hall-pass operation in a spectacularly destructive climax. Pitch perfect from start to finish (“The donuts tasted like papier-mache, only less sweet and harder to chew”) veteran TV writer Krieg’s fiction debut will have even the most hardboiled whodunit fans rolling in the aisles. Expect sequels, and hope they come soon.

Bedtime for Mommy

Booklist (February 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 12))
Preschool-Kindergarten. Eschewing the typical scenario of readying children for bed, Rosenthal tickles toddlers’ funny bones with a role-reversal tale in which the child gets Mommy ready for bed. Working at her computer, papers askew, a harried and bespectacled mom pleads for five more minutes. Wearing a self-satisfied smile, the freckled child times her and then pushes her up the stairs to her bath. Pham cleverly submerges Mom in a bubble bath while the determined child scrubs her toes. Mom then gives thumbs-down to several attempts at picking tomorrow’s outfit, exuberantly bounces into bed, bargains unsuccessfully for two books tonight (they curl up with Anna Karenina), and begs for a glass of water. Watching the clocks will provide added amusement (it takes one hour to get Mom tucked in, and then it’s Dad’s turn). With the entire text in speech bubbles and humorous, uncluttered watercolor paintings surrounded by lots of white space, this switcheroo book is a perfect bedtime choice.