Monday, December 12, 2011

Double Play!

Kirkus Review (June 1, 2011)

This jaunty rhyme set in a school playground serves as a playful introduction to the mathematical concept of doubling. Jill and Jake, monkey friends, join their other animal classmates at recess to gallop, race, climb, jump rope, kick ball and blow bubbles, while coupling their playtime antics with matching addition equations. When they hang from the monkey bars "with just their knees, / they grip the bars. / They're upside-downside / circus stars," proving "2 knees + 2 knees = 4 knees." Children accustomed to the play-to-learn environment of today's curriculum will cheerily join in the fun with this precursor to multiplication that extends the math lesson to the pleasures of physical activity. Full-bleed double-page watercolor spreads offer a variety of playground scenes, each with a different equation to encompass the doubling sums of the numerals 1-10. Children will easily grasp the concept of mathematical equations as they readily count items clearly depicted in each scene and offered on the endpapers. The frolicsome verse and efficacious design combine to highlight a precise exercise, making this concept picture book a twofold success.(Picture book. 6-8)

Desk Stories

Booklist (August 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 22))

Grades 1-3. Author and illustrator O’Malley repeats the formula that worked so well in Backpack Stories (2009) in this humorous picture-book tribute to school desks. Presented in a graphic-novel format, six fanciful, silly stories incorporate situations that any child who has endured a tedious class will appreciate, from a hamster set loose on an obnoxious classmate (“I’m the best”) to a talking desk that intones, “You are my prisoner!” The comic-panel visuals emphasize the episodic nature of the stories and allow O’Malley to use different artistic styles depending on each entry’s mood, from dark and foreboding to bright and joke cracking. Though some stories may reinforce students’ feelings that they’re being held hostage in school, this lighthearted offering will likely produce cheers rather than jeers and makes a great choice for reluctant readers.


Horn Book (May/June, 2011)

Clink, who's "rusty (even his dust had rust)" and "squeaky (even his creaks made squeaks)," just can't compete with his newer, fancier peers in the robot store. While others are able to perform tasks such as completing homework, baking cookies, picking up dirty laundry, or playing baseball, Clink is programmed to play old-fashioned music and make (dry) toast. After watching customers leave with his newfangled friends, Clink becomes progressively despondent and discouraged. However, when a young boy named Milton discounts one new robot after another, Clink is able to show his stuff by breaking out in a "head-boppin', toast-poppin', show-stoppin' tune," dancing with twirls and twists, and -- oops! -- hitting Milton with a rusty spring. As good luck would have it though, Milton "likes burned toast, is great at fixing things, and...loves to dance." The witty text, occasionally interspersed with colorful, onomatopoeic robot-centric words ("Plink! Pop! Ping!"), is ideal for reading aloud. DiPucchio skillfully mixes the self-esteem-building moral with a retro quality, and parents will dig the sense of nostalgia-for-the-simpler-things the way youngsters will the sparky robot theme. Myers's paintings, reminiscent of Mark Teague's, burst with loud colors and an energy that's perfect for a store -- and story -- full of bopping robots and smiling clientele. katrina hedeen

Bake Sale

Kirkus Review (July 15, 2011)

Varon returns with another strange and charming graphic work that touches on the theme of her terrific Robot Dreams (2007), namely: how fine friendship can be, and how surely it leads you down a twisty road of joys and melancholy. Here the main characters are Cupcake, a cupcake, and Eggplant, an eggplant (this is a world of animated foodstuffs). Cupcake runs a bakery and plays in a band with Eggplant. Eggplant has plans to travel to Turkey to see his family and, to Cupcake's envy, meet Turkish Delight, the world-renowned master of confections. Cupcake pulls double shifts at bake sales to save up enough drachmas to go along with Eggplant-losing his place in the band when an angry avocado takes on a new potato because Cupcake is too distracted-but then hands over the cash when Eggplant loses his job and his funding falls through. Varon loads the tale with all manner of idiosyncratic touches-a slice of bacon knocks the cherry off Cupcake's head, which is replaced by a blueberry; a great scene in a Turkish bath finds Cupcake's wrapper peeling-which gives a soft, unpredictable feel to the proceedings. The colors are lovely, low-key renderings, and the format has a decided two-dimensionality. An offbeat story about the sacrifices made for friends, about the very everydayness of such acts and the pitfalls and pleasures in their wake. (Picture book. 6 & up)

Three Remarkable Journeys Around The World

Booklist starred (September 15, 2011 (Vol. 108, No. 2))

Grades 4-7. Chronicling the true trip-around-the-world adventures of three nineteenth-century adventurers gives Phelan the opportunity to once again examine the Great American Narrative, as he did so effectively in his beautifully mythological The Storm in the Barn (Booklist Top of the List, 2009). While examining Thomas Stevens’ bicycle journey, feminist-ahead-of-her-time reporter Nellie Bly’s race to beat Phileas Fogg’s imaginary record, and Joshua Slocum’s solitary globe circumnavigation on a sailboat, Phelan does not fail to explore their inner journeys as well. Though any one of the tales (particularly Bly’s) could well have supported an entire book, juxtaposing the three allows Phelan to cast a wider psychological net, and the stories encompass such national ideals as dogged can-do spirit, exploration, enterprise, and commercialism, while never straying from the characters’ personal worlds or out of age-appropriate territory. In addition to tight research and a gift for evoking both an era and the personalities that lived in it, the stories are greatly abetted by the magic of Phelan’s art: washes of light and dark that set the tone and effortless, uncomplicated (yet highly distinctive) faces that are the very essence of determination and adventure.

If You Give A Dog A Donut

Publishers Weekly (August 15, 2011)

These veteran collaborators don't stray from the tried-and-true recipe for their If You Give... series in this addition, a buoyant, circular story in which a canine's spiraling free association leads to a day's worth of outdoor activities. As usual, Bond's clean, action-filled pictures, set against white backdrops, imbue the title character with abundant personality as he skips and dances his way through the pages. After his young host gives him a donut, the dog requests apple juice-and then seconds. Since there isn't any left, he skateboards outside to pick apples to make juice. Tossing an apple to the boy "make[s] him think of baseball," so the two dabble in that sport, play pirates, have a water fight, and fly a kite, before the dog is again reminded of apple juice-and donuts. There's a definite boy slant to this story, which is a nice complement to the more girl-oriented installments in the series. Even readers whose dogs are less demanding than this one are likely to recognize his boundless energy in their own pets. Ages 3-7. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Kirkus Review starred (July 15, 2011)

In this contemporary version of The Snow Queen, fifth-grader Hazel embarks on a memorable journey into the Minnesota woods to find her best friend Jack, who vanishes after a shard of glass pierces his eye. Adopted from India as a baby, fantasy maven Hazel has always felt "she was from a different planet." Hazel tries "desperately not to disturb the universe" at Lovelace Elementary, where she doesn't fit in with anyone except Jack, the only person she knows with a real imagination. Together they've grown out of "Wonderland Arctic space-people tea parties" into "superhero baseball"-until the day Hazel pelts Jack with a snowball, glass enters his eye and he disappears with a mysterious woman resembling the Snow Queen. Uncertain if Jack's really changed or something fey's afoot, Hazel enters the woods to find "an entirely different place," populated by creatures from the pages of Hans Christian Andersen. As Hazel discovers she doesn't know the ground rules, the third-person narrator engages readers with asides and inter-textual references from the fairy-tale canon. And like a fairy-tale heroine, Hazel traverses the woods without a breadcrumb trail to save a boy who may not want to be saved in this multi-layered, artfully crafted, transforming testament to the power of friendship. More than just a good story, this will appeal to lovers of Cornelia Funke as well as Andersen. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Al Pha's Bet

Publishers Weekly (March 7, 2011)

Rosenthal's (Duck! Rabbit!) Al Pha is a character from ancient history, a man who "lived back when all sorts of things were being invented. Like fire. The wheel. Shadows." He's a funny-looking guy, too, with a thumblike body and jellified arms. In a private bet with himself, he takes up the king's challenge to arrange the letters of the alphabet in a beautiful order. Durand's (Big Rabbit's Bad Mood) loopy acrylic paintings carry the story through a long, long middle section about how Al comes to arrange each of the letters as he does ("Gee, I really am doing it. G-that can be the next letter!"), populating Al's world with a wacky assortment of proto-trees and flowers, as well as a cast of equally goofy-looking villagers and animals. Pages are well designed and visually lively throughout, the text peppered with spot illustrations. At long last Al's project is done, and-predictably-the king recognizes his effort and names the alphabet after Al and his private wager. Fans of dopey puns everywhere, rejoice! Ages 3-5. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Departure Time

Kirkus Review starred (July 1, 2010)

In this debut novel, two seemingly unrelated stories merge into a poignant journey from anger to acceptance. In one story, a girl arrives at a derelict hotel operated by a fox and a rat. Unable to remember anything, she hears familiar piano music and discovers torn pieces of paper. In the second story, a father promises his daughter, Mouse, he'll be home for her 11th birthday. When he can't be there, Mouse writes a letter saying he's a lousy father, not realizing she'll never see him again. Since his death, Mouse has tried to forget her father and the angry letter, but she can't keep it up much longer. Matti alternates between the third-person story of the girl in the hotel gradually piecing bits of paper and her life together with Mouse's touching first-person memories of her father, who coincidentally had written her a story about a fox, a rat, a girl and a strange hotel. Initially perplexing and surreal, the narrative's juxtaposition of fantasy and reality eventually blends beautifully in the convincing conclusion. (Fiction. 10 & up)

Squish Super Amoeba

Booklist (March 15, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 14))

Grades 3-5. The Holm siblings (of Babymouse fame) start a new series of humorous school stories, this time featuring amoebas and other single-celled creatures. Squish prefers to spend his time reading comic books starring Super Amoeba but has to attend elementary school with his friends Pod, who’s a bit of a mooch, and Peggy, who’s always happy and a bit naive. There they face a bit more danger from bullies than most: Lynwood has a bad habit of eating paramecia, such as Peggy. Young readers will relate to the everyday misadventures of getting detention for being tardy, trading school lunches, dealing with bullies, and taking tests. They’ll also enjoy the way the amoebas chow down on tacos, read comic books, and generally act like kids. The black, white, and green art makes amoebas look, for the most part, cute, while the narrative and comments directed to the reader appear in green-tinted, arrowed boxes. Squish may appeal more to boys than girls, but any fans of the Holms’ superpopular other series are likely to enjoy this new offering.

Dumpling Days

Kirkus Review (November 15, 2011)

Pacy and her family travel to Taiwan for one month to celebrate her grandmother's 60th birthday, giving this Chinese-American girl another lens through which she can examine her identity. When Pacy's dad calls Taiwan an island of treasure, or bao dao, which sounds similar to the Chinese word for dumplings, she wonders--could Taiwan's treasure be food? In a companion novel to The Year of the Dog (2006) and The Year of the Rat (2008), gentle Pacy is back, brimming with questions of identity and self-discovery. At home in New York, Pacy is one of the few Asians in her class. She tries hard to fit in. In Taiwan, she looks similar to everyone else, but she doesn't speak Chinese or Taiwanese. So she doesn't fit in there either. Pacy's mom signs her up for a painting class, and Pacy is excited. She's a good artist; surely she'll make some friends. But painting with a bamboo brush on rice paper is difficult! The one talent that made her feel safe is suddenly gone; Pacy doesn't know who she is anymore or where she belongs. Luckily, there is a lot of loving family to surround her, and a lot of incredible food to eat (especially dumplings). This third outing is as warmhearted as the first two. Deftly weaving together historical anecdotes and simple line illustrations, Lin once again touches the heart of growing up in a multicultural family. (Fiction. 8-12)

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Ogre of Oglefort

Horn Book (July/August, 2011)

Ibbotson's playful humor, pungent turns of phrase, and sturdy friendliness toward her child heroes suffuse this novel (her second-to-last book), a fantasy that has its share of dramatic conflict but at heart celebrates the value of a peaceful home in which "people...[do] not want to be changed but...[are] content to be themselves." A displaced Hag and troll, a hapless wizard, and Ivo, an orphan whose look is "so attentive, so eager and intelligent" that he passes as an Unusual Creature, are told to slay a dreaded Ogre who holds a princess captive. But it turns out that Princess Mirella is with the Ogre of her own choice: she wants him to change her into a bird so she needn't marry foolish Prince Umberto. The Ogre doesn't want to transform her; he's a grieving widower who just wants to join his wife in her grave mound. Ivo, Mirella, and their magical friends become grief counselors, castle-and-garden renovators, and, briefly, a fighting force whose arsenal includes a soup tureen, roof tiles, and plagues of frogs, warts, and the Great Itch. In this one-darn-thing-after-another story, Ibbotson champions children's courage and intelligence and, in fantastical mode, illuminates the insidious evil of the overly interfering. deirdre f. baker

Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm

Booklist (February 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 11))

Grades K-2. In a sort of picture-book version of his adult book A Dog Year (2002), Katz introduces the four dogs who now share life with him on a farm in upstate New York. Through simple text and bright photographs, the four pooches are described, one at a time. Rose, a border collie, herds sheep, and photos depict her staring down the flock even through heavy snow. Izzy was abandoned early in life but now is a therapy animal who visits the sick. Frieda, the rottweiler–German shepherd mix, “is a bit scary” and guards the farm. The question asked at the end of each chapter is the same: “But what is Lenore’s job?” The answer’s clear, but Katz spells it out: the black Lab, who “looks for disgusting things to eat and mud to roll in,” is in charge of keeping the other dogs happy by loving them—“And that may be the greatest work of all.” This is the love letter people wishes they could write to their own pets, and it makes a point well worth reiterating: in a family, all members are equally valuable.

Brixton Brothers: It Happened On A Train

Kirkus Review (August 15, 2011)

The Brixton Brothers Detective Agency is no more. Kid gumshoe Steve Brixton (who actually doesn't have a brother, he just picked the name because it mirrors his beloved Bailey Brothers detective stories) has, at the ripe old age of 12, retired from the detecting game. He became disenchanted upon discovering, during his last adventure (Ghostwriter Secret, 2010), that the author of those inspiring books was actually a criminal mastermind. So Steve's given up his agency, and now his best chum Dana is spending entirely too much time with Other Dana, his girlfriend. Little does Steve know that signing up for the Model U.N. with Dana and Other Dana will place him on a train rocketing toward detecting destiny!When meeting a mysterious young lady onboard gets Steve invited into the mysterious last car on the Sunset Coastliner, Steve and Dana (but not Other Dana) find themselves invited to protect Mr. Vanderdraak's new, vintage motor car from serial car thieves! Can Steve solve the case? More importantly, can he go more than five minutes without getting trapped somewhere? Barnett's sly and often silly Hardy Boy parody chugs along with plenty of laughs and enough honest-to-gosh mystery to please any lover of boy detective fiction. Rex's black-and-white pencils (which also parody the Hardy tales) are still a fine match for the goofiness. Mention of the next adventure at mystery's close will make Brixton fans smile. (Humorous mystery. 10-14)

Goyangi Means Cat

Kirkus Review starred (April 15, 2011)

This beautifully illustrated, gentle adoption story stands out from most other treatments of the topic by honestly and reassuringly addressing the loss-of a birth family, a birth culture-inherent in adoption as well as the joy a new family experiences. Here, Soo Min, a young Korean girl, is adopted by an American couple. Everything seems strange and new: She doesn't speak any English; her adoptive parents know little Korean. She finds comfort with Goyangi ("cat"), who doesn't need language to communicate, whose fur she strokes when afraid and who "licked her hand with his towelly tongue" when she is homesick for Korea. Soft-focus collage-and-paint illustrations show the family members getting to know one another: at the playground, in the library, playing soccer and just spending time at home together. Korean words in hanja (characters) incorporated into the pictures' backgrounds and the presence of Korean words in the Western alphabet interspersed throughout the text make this an excellent choice to share with children like Soo Min; seeing the words in both languages comforts as well as educates. Soo Min's age isn't specified; she looks about 2 or 3, which is older than most Korean children adopted in the United States, but that doesn't take away from the main idea. A sensitive portrayal of international adoption, authentically and realistically done. (Picture book. 4-7)

The Door In The Forest

Horn Book (March/April, 2011)

In a fictional 1923, in a time of "Uncertainties," Daniel is troubled by two things. One is the unreachable island in the middle of the forest ("The place pushed back against all your attempts, setting out twisted thickets of hedge-apple trees bristling with curved, medieval-looking thorns"); the other is his inability to lie, which renders him unpopular. Both are central when calamity descends on the town in the form of mad Captain Sloper. Claiming they are rooting out traitors, Sloper and his soldiers shell the protected island -- when they aren't harassing Daniel's new friend Emily, who seems to have a special relationship to it. Only after multiple confrontations with the military and a visit to the mysterious island do Emily and Daniel unravel the relevant puzzles. Townley's fanciful story swings like a pendulum from Wild West tall tale to a vague mysticism that is enlivened by colorful imagery. At the novel's not-so-strong moments, plot and episode waver in their logic. At its considerable best, it is quirky and engaging; sentences hurry purposefully along, deepening atmosphere, theme, and plot ("The trees [were] deeply shadowed, as if they knew more about night than the rest of us"). deirdre f. baker


School Library Journal (July 1, 2011)

PreS-Gr 2-The view inside this family of four's duplex depicts what might be a typical night for them. The younger child is reaching for a board game, her older sister is talking on the phone, dad is cooking, and mom is working at the computer. When the girl tries to enlist the others to play the game with her, they're all too busy-until "The lights went out. All of them." It's a blackout! At first, the family members sit at the kitchen table with a flashlight and some candles; then they head up to the roof for a look at the bright stars against the dark cityscape; and, finally, they go down to the street, where there's a festive atmosphere of guitars playing, free ice cream, and an open fire hydrant. In the end, readers will see that simple pleasures and a spirit of togetherness can be enjoyed even when the electricity comes back on. The colorful pictures work beautifully with the book's design. Rocco uses comic-strip panels and a brief text to convey the atmosphere of a lively and almost magical urban landscape. Great bedtime reading for a soft summer night.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking

Horn Book (November/December, 2011)

"Underwater": In panel one, Benjamin Bear's pet canary and goldfish express a desire to see what's under the sea. In panel two we see Benjamin, in scuba gear, walking across the sand carrying the fish in a bowl and the bird in a cage. In panel three he is walking into the water. We worry: Will the fish escape; will the bird drown? But in the final panel we see the fish in a cage and the bird in the overturned, air-filled fishbowl. Four panels, eighteen words, one page, and a full story with desire, a journey, danger, and a "hey, presto" conjurer's denouement. In these twenty-seven single-page stories Coudray creates a set of visual haiku featuring Benjamin and a variety of his friends. An appended "Tips for Parents and Teachers" and the series name, "Easy-to-Read Comics," tell us that this is for emerging readers. The care given to binding, endpapers, and paper make it look like a picture book. The koan-like content suggests something like lateral thinking for tots. The whole enterprise lies somewhere between fuzzy-wuzzy was a bear and an introduction to fuzzy logic. It is original, deep-down funny, and, most important, the adventures are steeped in the rare quality of imaginative kindness. sarah ellis

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mystery Math A First Book of Algebra

Booklist (October 1, 2011 (Vol. 108, No. 3))

Grades 2-4. Although it’s not unusual for a math book to explain equations and how to solve them, it is unusual when the setting is a haunted house on a moonlit night. First, this picture book introduces the idea that an equation is like a seesaw with one side balancing the other and the notion of a variable, “X,” as a mystery that can be solved. After demonstrating a few equations with easy, guessable solutions, the text begins a narrative about Mandy and Billy, two children who have been in the illustrations from the start. They visit a haunted house, where caretaker Igor (and the household cats, bats, and skeletons) demonstrate how to solve equations using addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The story and lessons move along at a steady pace, while the eerie yet cheerful digital pictures illustrate the spooky setting, weirdly appealing characters, and even word problems with verve and style. An equation-related activity rounds out this kid-friendly introduction to basic algebra.

Inside Out and Back Again

Booklist starred (January 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 9))

Grades 4-8. After her father has been missing in action for nine years during the Vietnam War, 10-year-old Hà flees with her mother and three older brothers. Traveling first by boat, the family reaches a tent city in Guam, moves on to Florida, and is finally connected with sponsors in Alabama, where Hà finds refuge but also cruel rejection, especially from mean classmates. Based on Lai’s personal experience, this first novel captures a child-refugee’s struggle with rare honesty. Written in accessible, short free-verse poems, Hà’s immediate narrative describes her mistakes—both humorous and heartbreaking—with grammar, customs, and dress (she wears a flannel nightgown to school, for example); and readers will be moved by Hà’s sorrow as they recognize the anguish of being the outcast who spends lunchtime hiding in the bathroom. Eventually, Hà does get back at the sneering kids who bully her at school, and she finds help adjusting to her new life from a kind teacher who lost a son in Vietnam. The elemental details of Hà’s struggle dramatize a foreigner’s experience of alienation. And even as she begins to shape a new life, there is no easy comfort: her father is still gone.

Happy Pig Day!

Kirkus Review (September 15, 2011)

The latest entry in this popular series for beginning readers features a new holiday: It's Happy Pig Day, and Gerald the elephant is feeling left out. The elements that have made this series so successful and enduring are all present once again: a clean design (white background, lack of extraneous details, large type in word bubbles, etc.), a friendship theme and a satisfying resolution. This time around, Piggie announces the upcoming festivities, and at first Gerald's excited: "Ooooh! I did not know about Happy Pig Day." But the day soon sours for him, as three pig friends seem to be monopolizing his best friend's attention. It's not until Piggie reveals the truth about these pigs and Happy Pig Day that peace is restored. "Happy Pig Day is for . . . Anyone," begins Piggie, and a squirrel, cat and bear whip off their pig-costume heads, shouting "Who!" "Loves!" "Pigs!" respectively. Ostensibly about celebrating porcine pride, this explores coping with feelings a child may have upon learning a best friend may actually have other friends. Several Elephant & Piggie books have received Geisel Awards or Honors, for books for beginning readers; this one will not only encourage kids to give reading a go but will also teach them at least a few words in a new language: " 'Oinky! Oink! Oink!' ... 'means Happy Pig Day in Pig.' " (Early reader. 4-8)

The Girl Behind The Glass

Booklist (September 1, 2011 (Vol. 108, No. 1))

Grades 3-5. When 11-year-old Hannah and her family move to an old house in the country, she is the only one to be aware of Ruth, a mischief-making child who died there 80 years earlier. While Hannah’s sisters carry on, oblivious, Hannah sinks deeper into misery, as she feels alienated from her family. Kelley has created a compelling array of characters, all seen from the viewpoints of Ruth and Hannah, neither of whom can be called a reliable judge of motivations in themselves or in others but both of whom are nevertheless sympathetic. Through Hannah, Ruth first regains access to a book she loved to read, and then, as events unwind, Hannah helps her acquire closure and move on to an afterlife. Hannah’s frustrations are palpable, and her final victory—discovering that her twin sister, too, can finally hear Ruth—is satisfying. There is a lot of action, simply but elegantly revealed at a pace that will keep Hannah and Ruth’s peers buried in their story right through the last page.

Fabulous! A Portrait of Andy Warhol

Booklist starred (June 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 19))

Grades 3-6. Andy Warhol was an unlikely fellow to ever be tagged fabulous. Shy, sickly, and labeled a “sissy,” Warhol could only imagine a life of glamour. But imagine he did, with pictures of celebrities on the wall to inspire him and his own artistic talents to push him to New York City after graduating college. There, Warhol was able to find success as an illustrator, but he hungered for more. He found fame and fortune as a chronicler of pop culture, using everyday objects as his subjects, as in his famous series of paintings featuring Campbell’s soup cans. Christensen—who once performed with Warhol’s “superstars” at the Actors Studio—does a masterful job of capturing her subject in just a few words. Readers will sympathize with the boy so unattractive he was called “Rudolph the red-nosed Warhola” and admire the perseverance that landed him in the limelight. The bursts of text are set against striking illustrations—collaged photo transfers on canvas, which were then painted in oil—that are a fitting homage to Warhol’s art. In an author’s note, Christensen shows another side of Warhol, who lived with his mother, attended church, and served dinners to the homeless. By making readers care about the young Andy, kids will be moved to explore his art, which is precisely the sort of relationship between biography and the real world that authors strive for. Christensen succeeds.

Earth to Clunk

Kirkus Review (May 1, 2011)

The boy in Smallcomb's story starts as a put-upon grouchypants but slowly turns over the course of a pen-pal correspondence. When his teacher tells him to write to his pen pal, he's all grumps: "I don't want a pen pal named Clunk from the planet Quazar." He completes the assignment by sending his bratty older sister along with the letter. Clunk sends back a Zoid. The boy fires back with his dirty socks (a welder's helmet and tongs are necessary to handle them, all part of Berger's bright, sunny interpretations of the story's brooding crankiness.) Clunk posts three Forps ("Forps smell like dog food"). Things escalate until the boy's mother demands his sister's return. Clunk takes a while to respond-the note has been sent in a box full of moldering lasagna-and the boy realizes how much he has enjoyed the skirmishing with Clunk. This tale scales no new heights of much anything, but there is no denying the pleasure of its dry, matter-of-fact delivery: "I got a package from Clunk today! Inside is a disgusting glob of something. And my big sister." And Berger's artwork, with its Southern California-bungalow cheeriness, has a wonderful way of turning the story's gravity in on itself, then stirring the ingredients into broad, spirited humor. Rarely have school letter-writing exercises been so much fun. (Picture book. 4-8)

Around the World on Eighty Legs

Horn Book (March/April, 2011)

This collection of animal poems opens with a map of the world. The fifty-plus poems are arranged geographically by region, featuring such section titles as "From the Andes to the Amazon: South America (and Beyond)." Cleverly, the poems often pick up on some particular trait of the animal: "When gusts of wind / come, / it's all right. / The sloth hangs / loose -- / his claws hang / tight." Gibson uses a variety of poetic forms, many of the poems bouncing along in a way that will make readers want to read them aloud just for the joy of it. Funny wordplay ("Though it's winter, / he's so furry, / the chinchilla's not / chinchilly") match up with amusing illustrations in watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil that depict each animal accurately but with a twinkle of personality. Packed with poems (and a selection of further interesting animal facts at the back), this makes a great gift book as well as a nifty supplement to story times and classroom units on animals. susan dove lempke

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dog in Boots

Kirkus Review starred (February 1, 2011)

Inspired by the story "Puss in Boots," Dog decides that he needs some splendid boots of his own, so he trots off to his local shoe shop to purchase a pair. While the boots are quite handsome, they are not particularly well-suited for digging, so Dog brings them back. Galoshes are great for digging, but not so much for swimming, so... The very appealing illustrations, replete with liveliness, warmth and charm, show Dog as he enthusiastically tries out a variety of footwear options and the ever-patient shopkeeper as he makes helpful suggestions and maintains an unusually generous return policy. After Dog's failed experiments with the original boots, some galoshes, flippers, high heels and skis, he returns again, asking for "...something that's good for digging and swimming and scratching and running. Oh, nice and furry too." Could it be that Dog may already have what he needs? After getting an answer-and having an extremely gratifying romp-Dog returns home to start a new book, this one about a girl with a striking red hood. Uh oh! Children will identify with Dog's good-natured struggle through trial and error, fall in love with the evocative and funny illustrations and laugh out loud at the satisfying ending. A truly enjoyable selection and a nice follow-up to a favorite fairy tale, just right for reading aloud. (Picture book. 3-6)

April and Esme Tooth Fairies

Booklist starred (October 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 3))

Preschool-Grade 2. It’s easy to miss the very beginning of this story, which starts before the title page. April, a seven-year-old fairy, gets a call on her cell phone. A boy has lost his tooth. Can April come pick it up, his grandma wonders? Well, no. April and sister Esme are too young for that. But when the grandma insists, they decide to give it a go. At first, their parents put up a fight, but the sisters remind them that back in the day, fairies started young. And so, packed with plenty of advice and cautions, the girls set out into the night, encountering the wind and an owl, until they drop down at Daniel’s house. They find the tooth, almost get caught, must make some crucial decisions, are tempted by Grandma’s false teeth, and return in one piece, a rite of passage now finished. There’s so much wonderful whimsy here, it’s hard to know what to praise first. As always, a major treat is Graham’s detail-filled artwork, here punctuated by a fairy toilet made from an egg cup and ceiling decorations of hanging teeth. But Graham also slyly covers some interesting issues as well: the cocoon in which parents like to keep their kiddies, alternative families, and the pride and accomplishment children feel with a job well done. Fresh and lots of fun.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Zita the Spacegirl

Booklist (December 15, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 8))

Grades 3-6. For no reason at all, a little red button crashes to earth while Zita and her pal Joseph are out cavorting around. Of course, no one could resist pushing a mystery button, which pops open an interdimensional portal that whisks Joseph away. Zita follows and lands on a delightfully bizarre alien planet, where she sees Joseph being captured by a tentacled, scuba-headed creature. She makes some allies, takes off after him, and zany mishaps and dashing adventures ensue. Any story in which one can escape prison with a tube of “doorpaste” (just like toothpaste, except that it makes magic doors appear when smeared on a wall) obviously puts more stock in wowing imaginations than satisfying logic, and it needs solid cartooning chops to back it up. Fortunately, Hatke’s got them, and he doles out an increasingly loony and charming array of aliens, robots, and unclassifiable blobs and hairy things for Zita (herself a cross between Ramona Quimby and a Matt Phelan waif) to encounter. It’s fun, plenty funny, and more than a little random. Kids will love it.

Wonder Struck

Booklist starred (August 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 22))

Grades 4-8. Opening Selznick’s new book is like opening a cabinet of wonders—the early museum display case “filled with a nearly infinite variety of amazing things” that is so central to this story. Following the Caldecott Medal–winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007), Selznick offers another visual narrative, one that feels even better suited to his inventive style. The beautifully crafted structure includes two stories set 50 years apart. The first, set in 1977, is told in text and follows Ben, who is grieving the sudden loss of his mother when he stumbles upon clues that point to his father’s identity. The second, told entirely in richly shaded pencil drawings, opens in 1927 as a young girl, Rose, gazes at a newspaper clipping. Rose is deaf, and Ben also loses his hearing, during a lightning strike. Both lonely children run away to New York City, and their parallel stories echo and reflect each other through nuanced details, which lead “like a treasure map” to a conjoined, deeply satisfying conclusion. Selznick plays with a plethora of interwoven themes, including deafness and silence, the ability to see and value the world, family, and the interconnectedness of life. Although the book is hefty, at more than 600 pages, the pace is nevertheless brisk, and the kid-appealing mystery propels the story. With appreciative nods to museums, libraries, and E. L. Konigsburg, Wonderstruck is a gift for the eye, mind, and heart.

Under the Mambo Moon

Booklist starred (June 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 19))

Grades 3-5. Poetry, music, and dance come together with visually stimulating art and an authentic presentation of diversity in Latin American cultures to make this small book stand large. In lines of simple blank verse, young Marisol tells of accompanying her father to his record store and observing the various customers who shop for the dance music they love: “Papi says you can / read people’s souls / by the music / they listen to; / that hearts / fly home / when the music’s / just right.” Marisol’s narrative is illustrated in soft black and grays with elements of block print, sketch pencil, and wash that bring the store and its customers stylishly to life. As the dozen or so visitors—including a professor from Andean South America who recalls a zampoña (panpipe) player, a preschool teacher who loves to dance the son jaracho from Mexico’s Veracruz region, and a young man from the neighborhood who chats about the bossa nova and a certain girl from Ipanema—are introduced, they each get a page spread with a poem and a brightly colored pastel portrait that together vibrantly capture the movement and allure of each dance style. Back matter includes pithy descriptions of the different regions and dances evoked in the preceding poems. This lively book will delight many independent readers, dancers, and artists and provide a fun and accessible introduction to Latin American history and its lasting heritage of music and dance.

Thunder Birds

Library Media Connection (October 2011)

The beautiful, life-like paintings in this book allow children to come eye to eye with powerful predatory birds such as eagles, ospreys, herons, vultures, hawks, and owls they would normally be able to observe only from a distance. Four fold-out pages offer life-size renderings and close-up sketches of the birds' feet, wings, beaks, and feathers. The book's conversational first-person narrative draws readers in and creates the feeling of being right there with Arnosky as he visits different habitats and wildlife refuges. Informative captions identify each bird and detail its respective length and wingspan. The table of contents makes it easy to locate information about specific flying predators, and an author's note and list of additional bird resources identifies similar titles for further reading. This first-hand narrative of traveling across the country and observing some of nature's most powerful predators will wow readers and inspire them to scan the skies for thunder birds in their own communities. Anne Bozievich, Library Media Specialist, Friendship Elementary School, Glen Rock, Pennsylvania. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Scarum Fair

Kirkus Review (September 15, 2010)

Prepare for a deliciously scary and occasionally gross carnival experience. This collection of poems takes brave readers on a journey past "The Ghoul at the Gate" and treats them to "Devil's Food Cake," "I-Scream" and "Cat-Hair Stew." Once fortified, there are activities to do-"Pumpkin Bowling" or a "Coffin Race," anyone?-and freaky folks to meet. Other creature features include the "Head Louse"-"This tiny pest / requires no care. / She's happy strolling / through your hair / and laying eggs / that quickly hatch. / So every day / you start from scratch"-and the "Poison Dart Frog": "Witch Clara has a tiny frog / that plays the cruelest joke / on creeps who try to capture him, / 'cause they're the ones who croak." Ghoulish subject matter, rollicking rhythms, lots of wordplay and Ashley's creepy cartoons, filled with interesting details, will keep kids turning pages. Pair with Frankenstein Takes the Cake, by Adam Rex (2008), or There Was a Man Who Loved a Rat and Other Vile Little Poems, by Gerda Rovetch and illustrated by Lissa Rovetch (2008), for some frightful fun. (Poetry. 7-12)

Ruth and the Green Book

School Library Journal (November 1, 2010)

Gr 1-4-Ruth's father just bought a beautiful new 1952 Buick, making it a big day for this African-American family. They are going from Chicago to Alabama to visit Grandma. Ruth is very excited to be traveling, but the family encounters "whites only" restrooms, hotels, and restaurants along the way. It's very discouraging and sometimes scary, but they learn that some friendly faces may be found at local Esso stations, which are among the few franchises open to black businessmen. At a station near the Georgia border, they are introduced to Victor H. Green's The Negro Motorist Green Book, an early AAA guidebook of sorts that listed establishments or homes that would serve African Americans-be it for general services, housing, or meals. Ruth eventually becomes the Green Book specialist in the family, helping to guide them to an auto-repair shop or an inn that would welcome them. But, the best part of the trip is finally arriving at Grandma's, as illustrated by the loving expressions on all faces. A one-page concluding summary discusses the importance of The Green Book, which was in use from 1936-1964, when the Civil Rights Act was finally signed, banning racial discrimination. The realistic illustrations are done in oil wash on board, a self-described "subtractive process." The picture is painted, then erased to "paint" the final product. Overall, there is a sepialike quality to the art, giving the impression of gazing at old color photos. This is an important addition to picture book collections, useful as a discussion-starter on Civil Rights or as a stand-alone story.-Roxanne Burg, Orange County Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Postcards from Camp

Kirkus Review starred (June 1, 2011)

A reluctant camper gradually adjusts over the course of the summer, which is communicated entirely in postcards and letters between him and his father. After a brief prelude, the book begins with Michael's first postcard home, sent, apparently, as soon as he gets there. "Dear Dad, I HATE camp! Come get me! P-L-E-A-S-E. My counselor is an alien and a vegetarian." His father cheerfully responds to each plea with propaganda: New York City is in the throes of a heat wave; a hand-drawn postcard indicates that "97.3% of all children love camp." Postcard by postcard, though, Michael's attitude changes. He is certified as a "shark" in swim class; he goes on an awesome canoe trip; the Color War "was such fun.... Camp isn't that bad." There's one piece of correspondence per page turn, allowing readers to see both fronts and backs of postcards and letters. In the case of the letters, readers can "open" the envelopes cunningly glued to the pages and pull out the enclosed letters. Taback's signature illustrative style is perfect for this brief tale. Michael's scrawl and his father's cursive share space with collaged stamps and photographs as well as illustrations that suit the correspondents' ages. Share with kids before and after camp-newbies will be astonished at how typical Michael's experience is; seasoned campers (and their parents) will laugh all the way through. (Picture book. 7-12)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Play, Louis, Play!

Booklist (February 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 11))

Grades 3-5. With a bouncy, freewheeling tone that would make her subject proud, Weinstein tells the story of Louis Armstrong’s childhood from the point of view of his first cornet, a battered old five-dollar junker he scrimped and saved to buy from a pawn shop. He grew up poor, with a sick mother and absent father, in a rough New Orleans neighborhood. But he found a passion when he heard a new kind of music: “horns wah-wah-wahing, slow ’n’ sad drag-me-out blues, riffs on razzmatazz cornets, and jazzy beats of thumping piano keys.” And ever the affable performer in training, he never lost his face-splitting grin, no matter how bad things got as he bounced around homes until finally landing in the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. From there, his talent shone when their band would march the streets, and eventually he got picked up by Louis Oliver’s band and went on to change music history. Morrison’s sketchy black-and-white spot art livens up an already ebullient chapter-book biography of a true artistic pioneer.

Misty Gordon and the Mystery of the Ghost Pirates

Booklist (September 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 1))

Grades 4-7. Misty’s dad is always finding strange objects for his D.E.A.D. (Deceased’s Estate and Antique Dealer) shop, so when he gives 11-year-old Misty an old telephone from Fannie Belcher’s estate, she thinks nothing of it—at least until an old diary hidden inside the phone hints at a 400-year-old mystery involving pirates and the founding of Ashcrumb, Misty’s hometown. When Misty finds a pair of eyeglasses that allows her to see ghosts, she enlists the help of her friend Yoshi to solve the mystery and protect the town. Though the writing is not as polished, this first novel is perfect to hand to fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events or Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Kennedy does an excellent job of creating a sense of place and a feeling of eeriness (extended by black-and-white chapter-opener art), and her characters (especially the unstoppable Misty) are engaging and fun. Although the plot is predictable in places, the story is nonetheless a delightful read, equal parts craziness and humor.

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

Booklist (February 15, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 12))

Grades 2-4. Eleanor Abigail Kane has just experienced an August as dreadful as the black parts on a banana: her beloved babysitter, Bibi, has moved away to Florida to care for her ill father, and Eleanor is bereft. How she grows to love a new babysitter, while still cherishing Bibi, forms the center of this understated early chapter book. The story is told in straightforward, steady verse that echoes the gradual pace of Eleanor’s healing process. Surrounded by adults who are sympathetic to her loss, Eleanor is allowed time to grieve while being gently encouraged to find joy in new experiences and friends. Cordell’s winsome cartoon drawings complement the text without overcrowding the verse. The phrase “pickle juice on a cookie” is used at first to describe something tragic, and then something ridiculous, and fortunately, this title falls into neither category. It tells a simple, poignant story that will resonate with any child who has ever had to say good-bye.

Just Being Audrey

Booklist (December 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 7))

Grades 1-3. It’s hard to believe life for Audrey Hepburn was ever anything but smart clothes, quirky expressions, and wistful gazes into the eyes of Cary Grant, but Cardillo makes a strong case to the contrary. Growing up in WWII–era Europe, Audrey wanted only to be a dancer, but the other girls made fun of her physical hurdles: “She was too tall, her feet were too big, and her neck was too long,” and “her eyes seemed too big for her head.” Young readers will get the message: these were precisely the traits that made Audrey an iconic beauty as an adult. In short order, she was spotted by entertainment heavyweights for her je ne sais quoi and quickly catapulted to fame. Denos’ soft pastel illustrations cut just the right Audrey outline (complete with flapping neck scarf), and fans will especially enjoy picking out the movie roles depicted in a two-page spread of costumes. Her later humanitarian deeds are given their due, but it is Audrey’s simple kindness that is emphasized throughout.

Hot Diggity Dog

Booklist (April 15, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 16))

Grades K-3. The fact that there is so much argument about who made the first hot dog says a lot about its appeal. (If you say “frank,” you’re siding with the Frankfurt, Germany, contingent; if you say “wiener,” you’re making the folks in Vienna, Austria, happy.) This zany picture book takes eaters—that is, readers—through the snack’s journey from Roman pig-intestine delicacy to its modern ubiquity at ball parks, cookouts, and dinner tables. Key for the American audience is the nineteenth-century immigration that led to dog stands gaining popularity in hot spots like Coney Island. Sidebars patterned with a retro-cool look clash with the Mad magazine–style cartoon art, but the visual chaos is intentional and plays into the mustard-stained mitts of the target audience. Fun facts fly fast and furious: L.A. is America’s dog-hungriest city; the wiener equivalent at South African sporting events is beetroot salad. Also included are regional dog differences (get that ketchup off my Chicago Dog!), the rise of the veggie dog, recipes, and plenty of mouth-watering photos. Don’t read before lunch.


Publishers Weekly (October 25, 2010)

Sportswriter and novelist Lupica (Million-Dollar Throw) offers a change of pace from his previous sports stories for younger readers, deftly reworking the traditional superhero origin story into a moving tale of adolescent growth. Shortly after his father dies in a plane accident, 14-year-old Zach Harriman discovers that his father was more than just a highly placed government adviser; he might have been a superhero. As he investigates his father's death, he meets an old man named Mr. Herbert, who claims that Zach has magic within him, and Zach soon discovers that the mild hints of power he'd shown-a sixth sense about danger and an ability to heal quickly-are only the tip of the iceberg. Lupica nicely coaxes sympathy for characters who are immersed in privilege (only Zach's friend Kate, who lives with her housekeeper mother in Zach's huge Fifth Avenue apartment, doesn't exude wealth), instead focusing on Zach's grief, his conflicting emotions over his discoveries, and his uncertainty over who to trust. As superhero stories go, it follows a classic arc, but Lupica's characters avoid cliche. Ages 10-up. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hamster Magic

Booklist (December 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 7))

Grades 1-3. A couple of steps up from an easy reader, Jonell’s latest book will appeal to those who prefer their fantasy stories furry and friendly. It follows four siblings over the course of a day and a very long night as they deal with a wish gone wrong. The Willow kids (ages six and up) have just moved from their suburban neighborhood to a house in the country, and they’re having some trouble adjusting. But those troubles seem simple after Celia, the youngest, turns into a giant hamster when she wishes “to be big.” Dorman’s black-and-white illustrations are appealing, and Jonell handles the children’s problem with a light hand, finding humor in how they hide Celia’s appearance and tremendous stores of energy from their parents. After a night of adventure in which the children sneak out to find the Great Hamster and undo the magic, all ends well. And the Willow kids are sure that next time, they will better handle all of the new rural magic around them.

Escape Under the Forever Sky

Booklist (May 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 17))

Grades 5-8. Teens itching to read about life on another continent will relish Yohalem’s exciting debut novel set in Africa. Lucy Hoffman’s mom is the U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, so Lucy lives and attends high school in the capital city of Addis Ababa. Unfortunately, Lucy’s overprotective mother won’t let her out of the house, which means no game drives or hanging out with her friends at the local ice-cream parlor. Frustrated and resentful, Lucy and a friend sneak out of the house and head into the city. The plot quickens when Lucy is kidnapped and held for ransom. Isolated and without shoes, Lucy plans an escape using her knowledge of the African wilderness. Loosely based on a true story, Yohalem’s tale weaves together the beauty of the African wildlife with the harsh realities of a poor and unstable region. Scenes depicting Lucy’s resourcefulness are riveting, and the author’s descriptions of Ethiopian culture will pique young readers’ curiosity about life abroad.

EllRay Jakes is NOT a Chicken!

Booklist (June 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 19))

Grades 2-4. Lancelot Raymond Jakes is admittedly the smallest student in his third-grade class—even counting the girls. Trouble seems to find EllRay at school, even when he is trying his hardest to be good for his teacher. And he is certainly trying his hardest this week: if EllRay cannot behave, his father will cancel their upcoming trip to Disneyland. To make EllRay’s week even more difficult, he inexplicably finds himself involved in a “3-way boys’ war” with the two biggest, baddest boys in school, Stanley and Jared, who are intent on humiliating EllRay any way they can. The issue of bullying is addressed responsibly but without many of the tiresome buzzwords and trite approaches often used by adults who don’t fully appreciate the need to save face on the playground. Warner creates a humorous voice for EllRay, amplified by Harper’s winsome illustrations, that is sweet, authentic, and ideal for reluctant readers. Fans will be eager for the next installment in the series.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat A Dickens of a Tale

Kirkus Review starred (September 15, 2011)

"He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms." And for all his harsh early life and unnatural dietary preferences, ragged London alley cat Skilley gets to look at a queen, too. Landing a gig as mouser for the chophouse and writers' hangout Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a lifelong fantasy come true for both Skilley and the inn's swarm of resident mice--because unlike his feline rivals, Skilley adores cheese and has no taste for mice at all. In fact it isn't long before he and Pip, a mouse of parts who has learned to read and write, have become great friends. Deedy and Wright take this premise and run with it, tucking in appearances from Dickens, Thackeray and other writers of the time. Cat and mice unite to face such challenges as the arrival of a cruel new cat named Oliver ("Well, this was an unwelcome twist"), a mysterious cheese thief and, climactically, a wise but injured old raven that is the subject of a country-wide search that culminates in a visit to the inn by Queen Victoria Herself. Moser contributes splendid black-and-white illustrations that manage to be both realistic and funny, recalling Robert Lawson while retaining his own style. Readers with great expectations will find them fully satisfied by this tongue-in-cheek romp through a historic public House that is the very opposite of Bleak. (Animal fantasy. 10-12)

Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!

Kirkus Review (July 15, 2010)

Nerdy Victor is literally blasted out of his compulsively regimented ways when "Frank Benjamin," waking from 200 years of suspended animation, moves into a nearby apartment. Being a human battery with electricity-conducting bolts embedded in his neck and veins filled with "harmonic fluid," Ben-er, Frank-has a tendency to run amok when overcharged or devolve into a zombielike state when the juice runs low-conditions that the authors exploit to hilarious effect as they send young Victor scurrying across Philadelphia after his new neighbor and mentor, discovering a secret lab buried beneath their rundown building and rebuilding his elaborate but derivative science-fair volcano into an experimental one so massively destructive that even Victor is left impressed and proud. Frequent technical diagrams and actual patent drawings add a luster of Real Science to the antics, and 18th-century veneer is provided by Poor Richard's Almanack-style borders and display type. The balance struck between Victor's methodical approach and Ben's "we'll have to trust our instincts, whack away at the problem, and hope for the best" attitude provide some food for thought, too. Expect sequels. (Sci-fantasy. 10-12)

Aliens On Vacation

Kirkus Review (April 15, 2011)

Summer with grandma: boring, right? David, aka Scrub, is dreading it. His too-busy parents have sent him to stay with his hippie-dippy grandma in a small town in Washington. Grandma runs the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, which caters to weirdoes who pretend they're from outer space. The obvious becomes unavoidable when Scrub witnesses one guest devouring aluminum foil while guzzling bleach and Scrub's closet door turns out to be a portal for all manner of tentacled, many-eyed, rubbery-skinned creatures. Grandma enlists Scrub to outfit the vacationing guests in earthly disguises, and he discovers he likes this new feeling of being trusted. But his head and tongue go wonky when curious neighbor Amy, daughter of the town sheriff (who wants to close the inn), starts poking around. Though the momentum takes a while to rev, the hi-jinks hit full gear when Scrub takes three puckish alien youngsters on a camping trip and they cross paths with the sheriff's scouting troop. The jig is up, and Scrub feels the weight of grandma's disappointment. What can he do to set things right? With goofy alien illustrations to kick start each chapter, this tale explores the confusion of impending teen-hood and the importance of a sense of purpose, plus how cool it would be to have friendly aliens living among us. Ideal for upper-elementary readers dabbling in sci-fi. (Science fiction. 9-13)

Monday, October 17, 2011

You Will Be My Friend!

School Library Journal (September 1, 2011)

PreS-Gr 2-Lucy, the bear who tried to adopt a boy in Children Make Terrible Pets (Little, Brown, 2010), is on the hunt for a new friend. While she searches the forest, speech bubbles capture her fervent anticipation: "We're going to do cartwheels! And climb trees! And have picnics! And have a dance party!" A frog invites her to play, but Lucy's overzealous belly flop empties out the pond. She dryly comments, "Things didn't work out." Bees invite Lucy to lunch, but she ends up eating their hive. Brown's quirky wood-grain-bordered illustrations show the cub's over-the-top tactics to fit in, from squeezing down a rabbit hole to gnawing tree trunks beside a beaver. After all of her overtures are rebuffed, she resorts to threats: "Come back here and have fun with me!" "You won't get any snacks unless you start liking me RIGHT NOW." When Lucy finally relaxes her approach, a flamingo pal comes her way. Readers will be won over by this witty, slapstick story of friendship found.-Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ontario, Canada (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Nothing Like A Puffin

Kirkus Review starred (August 15, 2011)

Several essential facts about puffins emerge from this engaging, cheerful and astonishingly simple taxonomic exercise, filled with humor and a dynamic conversational style both visual and textual. Soltis' relaxed, forthright words and sentences build a momentum of anticipation and discovery-first an initial and then repeated assertion that there is "nothing like a puffin," followed by a series of comparative observations in which it turns out that a particular animal or item actually is in some way (two legs, hatches from eggs, swims) perhaps a little like a puffin. Kolar's eye-catching, full page, digitally created cartoons feature a merry-looking puffin in every opening, interacting with the objects or bright-eyed creatures of comparison: a newspaper, a pair of jeans, a goldfish, a snake, a shovel, a helicopter, a penguin. The colors on the puffin's bill are repeated in the figures and vivid backgrounds throughout. Young listeners won't know everything about puffins after a reading or two of this lively discourse, but they will have an idea about how to relate new information to something already known. What makes two things alike and what makes them different-what, indeed, confers individuality and the quality of being uniquely amazing-is exuberantly celebrated in a puffin-affectionate package. (Picture book. 2-5)

Blue Chicken

Kirkus Review starred (August 15, 2011)

Breathtakingly beautiful meta-illustrations will draw many eyes to this tale of a curious chicken who spills some paint. "This picture is almost finished," narrates an unseen artist whose life-size pencil and brush lie across a barnyard drawing with cow, chicken coop and wheelbarrow softly shaded and colored but a barn only outlined. "[T]his day is perfect for painting the barn. / But wait. Does one of the chickens want to help?" A small white chicken patters out from the coop onto the blank white background, climbing up onto the edge of a paint pot-and tipping it over. Blue paint flows down the page, splattering on finished and unfinished bits of the original picture. It floods onto pansies, chicks and the cow, whose "moo wakes the chickens. They're peevish and blue." Irritated blue chickens give chase across now all-blue spreads; the original chicken who "just wanted to... / HELP!" is intimidated and "[s]incerely sorry." Watercolor washes and splashes, from pale blue to dark, create wonderful, wet patterns; their liquid edges contrast alluringly with fine pencil lines and shadings. Resourcefully, the chicken tips out the artist's brush-rinsing water jar, drenching and cleansing this world back into neatness. But is that the artist at the end, painting a real barn outdoors while something hilarious happens indoors in her studio? Delicate and durable, visually sophisticated yet friendly: simply exquisite. (Picture book. 3-7)


Booklist starred (October 15, 2011 (Vol. 108, No. 4))

Preschool-Grade 3. A long road trip, depicted in a series of panels on the title page, sets the stage for this tender, funny story about moving, settling down, and starting over. A boy and his family move to a new town. He worries about all of the troubles of relocation, especially being lonely, and his mother sends him out into the neighborhood to find new friends. As he walks to the end of the block, he draws attention by calling out a mysterious name: “NEVILLE, NEVILLE.” In no time, the streets are full of kids who have joined in the shouting and are all willing to help look for the eponymous stranger. As they ask questions, the boy tells them all about his best friend, Neville, whom they can’t wait to meet. Evening descends, the children part company, and the boy returns to his new home, where Neville’s true identity is revealed. The story’s simple charm comes to life in Juster’s well-paced, spare language. Karas’ deft mixed-media sketches carry remarkable weight. The new neighborhood begins as a lonely row of identical white houses and ends as a colorful bustle of congenial activity. With just a few simple strokes, Karas imbues his cartoonlike figures with deep and subtle emotion. A harmonious blend of text and illustration, this is a warm, reassuring choice for all children who know the anxieties that come with big life changes.