Monday, January 31, 2011

The Lost Hero

Booklist (November 1, 2010 (Online))
Grades 4-8. Readers longing for a return to Camp Half-Blood will get their wish in the first novel of the Heroes of Olympus series, which follows Riordan’s popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and includes some of the same characters in minor roles. The new cast features Jason, Piper, and Leo, teen demigods who are just coming to understand and use their unique abilities as they learn how much depends upon their wits, courage, and fast-developing friendship. Setting up the books to come, the backstory of a master plan to unseat the gods is complex but is doled out in manageable bits with a general air of foreboding. Meanwhile, the action scenes come frequently as the three heroic teens fight monstrous enemies in North American locales, including the Grand Canyon, Quebec City, Detroit, Chicago, Omaha, Pikes Peak, and Sonoma Valley. Flashes of humor lighten the mood at times, but a tone of urgency and imminent danger seems as integral to this series as the last. With appealing new characters within a familiar framework, this spin-off will satisfy the demand for more.

Interrupting Chicken

Booklist (September 15, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 2))
Preschool-Grade 3. At bedtime, Papa prepares to read an old favorite to the little red chicken, but before beginning, he reminds her not to interrupt the story. Reassured, he begins “Hansel and Gretel,” but just as the two children approach the witch’s house, up pops the little red chicken, exclaiming “‘DON’T GO IN! SHE’S A WITCH!’ . . . THE END!” Two more attempted bedtime stories end abruptly with the little red chicken saving Little Red Riding Hood and Chicken Little. The childlike humor of this wonderfully illustrated picture book will bring belly laughs from kids, particularly those who know the original stories. Stein uses page turns dramatically to build tension, which is released each time the chicken interrupts and amends a fairy tale. Differences in medium and style differentiate between scenes taking place in the folktales and in the main story. Created with watercolor, water-soluble crayon, and pen and ink, the illustrations are vivid and dramatic. Great fun for reading aloud.

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

Booklist starred (July 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 21))
Grades 2-4. Dance. Music. Set. All of these elements contribute to the experience of Appalachian Spring, an American classic that continues to thrill audiences. But authors Greenberg and Jordan are less concerned with presenting the ballet (although readers do get a strong sense of it) and more interested in how such an extraordinary collaboration came to be. How does an idea go from a jotted note on choreographer Martha Graham’s pad to a fierce triumph? In crisp yet patient sentences, the authors begin with a vision: a story to be told in movement and music, an American pioneer tale. Composer Aaron Copland takes his cues from his knowledge of Graham’s powerful yet simple dance style. A Shaker hymn leads him to the music, which in turn ignites Graham’s choreography. But one more element is needed. Enter artist Isamu Noguchi, whose set design is as spare and strong as the ballet. The collaboration continues as the dance becomes fully formed, opening triumphantly in 1944. In this book, too, disparate elements come together. Matching the mood of Graham’s moves, the writing is pared down but full of possibilities. Floca’s ink-and-watercolor artwork nimbly shifts from the prosaic (Copland reading Graham’s script) to the visionary (a bride and groom on the open prairie) to the several-spread finale of the ballet itself. The book as a whole beautifully captures the process of artistic creation. The extensive back matter that concludes is welcome, but what readers will surely want after putting this down is to see and hear Appalachian Spring for themselves.

Mythlopedia: All in the family

School Library Journal (February 1, 2010)
Gr 4-6-Jam-packed with trivia, brief profiles, god and goddess relationships, stories, "Top 10 Things to Know About Me" facts, and entertaining illustrations, this title explores 20 heroes and mortals of classic Greek mythology. The selections include the well-known Achilles, Heracles, Odysseus, and Pandora and the more obscure Meleager, Orion, Atalanta, and Bellerophon; each one is given lively treatment. A helpful introduction, a glossary, recommended Web sites, and a family tree complete the package and make this a treasure trove of facts for report writers. While somewhat cluttered, the lighthearted style and humorous collage and cartoon illustrations may draw even the most reluctant of readers. However, those with some knowledge of Greek myths will get the most out of it, and laugh at the inside jokes. Useful for collections where mythology is popular and part of the local curriculum.-Angela J. Reynolds, Annapolis Valley Regional Library, Bridgetown, NS, Canada Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil

Kirkus Review (April 1, 2010)
An exuberant and intriguing way to answer Grandma's questions about school. The young girl narrator starts with her teacher, whose voice is "as sweet as candy (except when she is very excited)" and who smells "lovely as flowers." These and other attributes of the teacher are illustrated with found objects: blue flower-shaped buttons, plastic letters, a piece of hard candy in a red wrapper. On the next page, against a bright, fuchsia background, there is a portrait of the teacher: Her face is a chalkboard, her mouth is that piece of candy, her hair is the jumble of letters and so on. The girl's best friend has a sharpened-pencil mouth and a plastic microscope for a nose. Each figure--including the librarian, the art teacher and Sofia, "the wildest girl in my class"--is created on a matte gouache background with body and features made of collaged photographic images of these familiar objects. Great, inventive fun. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8)

Lulu and the Brontosaurus

Horn Book (November/December, 2010)
Spoiled Lulu wants a pet brontosaurus for her birthday, even after her parents say no. Since no is not a word Lulu is used to hearing, she throws a temper tantrum and runs away into the forest to find a brontosaurus, who, to her shock, wants to make Lulu his pet. As Lulu flees the dinosaur, her run-ins with forest creatures prove that her tiff with the brontosaurus has made Lulu more understanding, compassionate, and polite; she even says "please" and "thank you." Multiple endings allow readers to explore various outcomes, adding a goofy thread to an already entertaining story. The third-person narrator's voice is sassy and funny, repeatedly speaking directly to the reader about the story -- "OKAY! All right! You don't have to tell me! I know!" (explaining that she knows that dinosaurs have never lived with people, and that brontosauruses are actually called apatosauruses now). Playful typefaces add emphasis and spunk, injecting the text with visual emotion. Lane Smith's almost-pointillist black-and-white illustrations are vivacious and expressive, depicting as clearly as the text does Lulu's bratty-turned-polite personality. The energetic tone of the narration and unique structure of the multiple endings, combined with an inviting page design, make this early chapter book one readers will say "yes" to. katrina hedeen

Justin Case School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters

Kirkus Review starred (April 15, 2010)
Third grader Justin Case gets this nickname thanks to his amazing ability to worry about everything. His journal chronicles his nightmares and self-fulfilling prophecies of doom. He carries concerns about school, sports and friendships to wild extremes, and he creates a litany of characters and events that strike terror at every turn, from the imaginary robber Big Boy to his beloved stuffed animals, which wage a war over control of his bed, to the boiler at the way back of the basement--and anything else his incredibly active and freewheeling imagination can conjure. For him "there's always tomorrow for all the bad things that didn't happen today." He doesn't notice that he is also kind, dependable, tenacious and highly creative, as well as a very good friend and big brother. Vail employs easy, direct language in a rhythm and syntax that captures the essence of a charming, lovable and very believable boy. Readers transitioning to longer fiction will groan, sympathize and laugh out loud in delight. Absolutely marvelous. (Fiction. 7-10)

Dear Primo A Letter to My Cousin

Kirkus Review (March 1, 2010)
In a story based on the author's childhood experiences, two cousins, Charlie and Carlitos, exchange letters. Charlie lives in the United States; his primo Carlitos lives in Mexico. They both write about the friends, games, foods, fiestas and holidays they know. Like the characters in "The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse," their lives are very different. But readers will discover that there are more than differences. There is something that unifies them: They both wish to meet each other someday. What sets this title apart are Tonatiuh's outstanding full-page illustrations, reminiscent of the aesthetic and style of the Mixtec codices. His clever use of colors, Mayan blue and Indian red for the Mexican setting and a variety of grays, blacks and browns mixed with bright colors for the U.S. urban scenes, the varying typefaces used on each side of the story and the inclusion of Spanish terms in Carlitos's letter all contribute to differentiate both cultural experiences but make them at the same time positive, attractive and special. (glossary) (Picture book. 4-8)

Guys Read

Booklist starred (October 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 3))
Grades 4-7. The funny fellow (Jon Scieszka) with the impressive title (Emeritus National Ambassador for Children’s Literature) presents a collection of 10 humorous (you were expecting tragedy?) stories by some leading lights in literature for young readers. This is the first volume of the promised official Guys Read library, which is named for Scieszka’s well-known Web site, designed, like this book, to encourage boys to read. And what better way to start than with this collection of howlers by the likes of Eoin Colfer, David Lubar, Christopher Paul Curtis, and other yuk-inducing luminaries. Standouts include Kate DiCamillo (the lone female among the authors) and editor Scieszka’s charmer of a story in letters between a famous author named Maureen O’Toople and a boy named Joe; David Yoo’s wacky, laugh-out-loud story about a disappointed father and an evil turkey; and from the diabolical imagination of Jack Gantos, a cautionary tale about dangerous friends and rusty pliers. A must-have collection for the boys in your library—and while you’re at it, get a copy for the girls, too!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

Booklist (September 15, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 2))
Grades 4-6. Owen Jester has captured the biggest, greenest, slimiest, most beautiful bullfrog ever to be seen in Carter, Georgia. He has named it Tooley Graham, and he has built a swell cage for it in his bedroom. Owen is very happy. But Tooley is not. In fact, according to Owen’s snoopy, know-it-all neighbor, Viola, the frog is downright sad. But this is not Owen’s fantastic secret. That arrives the night he hears something fall off a passing train, and when he discovers what it is, he has a genuine, bona fide fantastic secret, which may not be revealed here. Suffice it to say, it launches an adventure involving Owen, his two best friends, and (shudder) Viola. O’Connor’s latest—with her signature southern setting—is diverting, though it lacks suspense, and at times the characters seem less strongly realized than in her other works. Nevertheless, the story is smoothly written, the secret is ingenious and believable, and who can resist a frog named Tooley Graham?

The Fabled Fifth Graders of Aesop Elementary School

Horn Book (September/October, 2010)
Mr. Jupiter, adventurer turned teacher, has agreed to stay on for another year with the most dreaded group of kids in Aesop Elementary history. Twenty fifth-graders, especially these twenty, promise to be a chal-lenge. We know he is up for them when he compares them to a bungee-jump off the Empire State Building and catching the Loch Ness monster. Following the same format as she did when these kids were in fourth grade, Fleming tells her tale through connected short stories that each end with a moral (it's not called Aesop Elementary for nothing!). Mr. Jupiter leads his class, clad in Aztec headdresses, into the school, dancing and wing-flapping all the way. And the moral? "Birds of a feather flock together." The names of the characters -- from Bernadette Braggadoccio to Humphrey Parrot -- let the reader know that things are going to get silly. We go through the year from projects to spelling bee to graduation, and after two years together, this crew is sad to say goodbye to the teacher who has made it all possible. A rare adventure -- one that many teachers and students will take to heart. robin l. smith

Dust Devil

Booklist starred (September 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 1))
Preschool-Grade 2. Children who know Angelica Longrider, the “wildest wildcat in Tennessee” in the Caldecott Honor Book Swamp Angel (1994), will cheer her return in this sequel, which sends the barefoot, bear-wrestling giant to Montana. After rearranging a mountain or two, Angel feels settled in her new home. All she needs is a horse powerful enough to support her Himalayan size, and she finds her answer when a dust storm hits in the summer of 1835. Leaping onto the swirling funnel clouds of grime, she wrestles the storm until it magically takes equine shape and becomes Dust Devil, her trusty sidekick, who arrives just in time to help her take on a team of larger-than-life bandits, led by Backward Bart. Once again, Isaacs’ story and Zelinsky’s oil-paint-on-wood artwork create a laugh-out-loud tall tale with folksy phrasing and slapstick exaggeration. There are really two adventures in one here, which makes for a lengthy read-aloud, but children will delight in the deadpan, Old West narration and every gleefully silly, expertly rendered visual detail, from Bart’s steed (a saloon-sized mosquito) to Angel’s full-branched pine-tree knitting needles. A few pourqoui elements wrap up this handsomely designed, thoroughly entertaining stand-alone sequel.

Children Make Terrible Pets

Booklist (October 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 3))
Preschool-Grade 2. Lucy, a tutu- and ribbon-adorned young bear, is instantly besotted with a human boy she finds in the forest. After naming him Squeaker (the only sound he makes) and bringing him home, she begs her mother to keep him, and Mom relents on the condition that Lucy take full responsibility for his care. The two have a ball playing together until Lucy confronts some of the less-appealing aspects of pet ownership, such as potty training and dealing with destroyed furniture. When Squeaker suddenly disappears, Lucy follows his trail, discovers that he has returned to his natural habitat of house and human family, and comes to understand, as countless children have, that not all critters are cut out for domestication. (A final spread shows that Lucy hasn’t given up on her enthusiasm by any stretch, though.) Brown’s distinctive multimedia art, featuring text in colored blocks and characters’ asides printed in word balloons, has a playful, old-time style that matches the woodsy setting and the enjoyable story's upbeat tone.

The Candymakers

Booklist (November 15, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 6))
Grades 4-6. It starts with unmistakable echoes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) and eventually features a musical candy a la Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s “Toot Sweets,” but Mass’ latest novel ends up being a treat all its own. Four 12-year-olds gather at a candy factory to participate in the local segment of a nationwide contest to create a new and delectable piece of candy. One contestant is the only child of the factory’s owner, known here as the Candymaker. Another boy is obsessed with allergies and the afterlife, while the third boy is unfriendly and intent on winning. The lone girl, Daisy, seems to be sweetness itself but displays great physical strength as well as odd behavior. Mass skillfully presents the two and a half days of the kids’ apprenticeship from the perspective of each of the four contestants. At over four hundred pages, this is not a lightning-fast read, but it reveals a multitude of mysteries, explaining all the clues about misunderstandings, spies, and sabotage that Mass has dropped along the way. Attentive, candy-loving readers will be richly rewarded.


Booklist starred (May 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 17))
Preschool-Grade 2. As in The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq (2005), Winter once again tells an inspiring story about an untraditional library, but here her setting—the lush jungles of Colombia rather than Basra’s war-torn Iraq—makes for a much lighter tale. After amassing piles of books, Luis, a voracious reader, dreams up a way to share his collection with “faraway villages.” He starts with two burros—one for himself, one for books—and heads off. Tough terrain and menacing bandits challenge him along the way, but at last he reaches a remote town, where he holds a story hour and loans titles to eager kids before returning home to his wife and reading late into the night. Winter’s captivating paintings evoke a South American feel in their brilliant palette and dense, green tropical scenes teeming with creatures, including large, orange-winged butterflies on every page. And Winter offers fresh, visual surprises. In a particularly imaginative scene, cartoon bubbles float over the children’s heads, carrying scenes from the story Luis reads aloud. Winter’s text is spare and streamlined, as usual, and here it has a particularly engaging, repetitive rhythm that builds into a lulling bedtime beat, as day turns into night. Both understated and full of life, this satisfying story is a vibrant reminder of the pleasures of books and the difference one individual can make. An author’s note fills in more about the real-life Luis and his biblioburros.

Betsy Red Hoodie

Booklist (September 15, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 2))
Grades K-3. The little shepherd in the hoodie sweatshirt who starred in Betsy Who Cried Wolf! (2002) makes another appearance in this loopy, laugh-aloud adventure. Traditional story elements frame the tale: Betsy is asked to carry a basket of baked goods to her grandmother. She responsibly brings her sheep along, with the help of her unlikely co-shepherd, Zimmo the wolf, who disappears along the way. Betsy has always known that “wolves aren’t good for grandmas.” Is Zimmo up to no good? After journeying through mountains and mudslides, Betsy finally reaches her grandmother and finds her alive and well, entertaining surprise guests at a full-swing party. Levine’s well-paced, straightforward storytelling plays nicely against the broad comedy in Nash’s color-washed ink drawings, which are filled with comics-style speech balloons printed with asides and complaints from the sheep (“My wool is itchy”). Full of action, zaniness, and a few meta-moments in which characters crawl out of the story, this makes a good companion to David Wiesner’s similarly fractured The Three Pigs (2001).

A Bedtime for Bear

Booklist (October 15, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 4))
Preschool-Grade 3. Bear needs everything just so at bedtime. When his friend Mouse arrives for a sleepover, he tries to be accommodating, but Mouse’s bedtime toothbrushing, humming, and whispering put him out of sorts. Unable to sleep, Bear hears a shuffling sound that frightens him, and in the end, he is glad that his resourceful friend is there. Children will see their own nighttime fears mirrored in Bear’s expressive face and body language. The watercolor, ink, and gouache artwork captures all the drama and gentle humor of this gracefully written tale, which reads aloud well.

Because of Mr. Terupt

Kirkus Review (September 15, 2010)
During a school year in which a gifted teacher who emphasizes personal responsibility among his fifth graders ends up in a coma from a thrown snowball, his students come to terms with their own issues and learn to be forgiving. Told in short chapters organized month-by-month in the voices of seven students, often describing the same incident from different viewpoints, this weaves together a variety of not-uncommon classroom characters and situations: the new kid, the trickster, the social bully, the super-bright and the disaffected; family clashes, divorce and death; an unwed mother whose long-ago actions haven't been forgotten in the small-town setting; class and experiential differences. Mr. Terupt engineers regular visits to the school's special-needs classroom, changing some lives on both sides. A "Dollar Word" activity so appeals to Luke that he sprinkles them throughout his narrative all year. Danielle includes her regular prayers, and Anna never stops her hopeful matchmaking. No one is perfect in this feel-good story, but everyone benefits, including sentimentally inclined readers. (Fiction. 9-12)

The 3 Little Dassies

Booklist (September 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 1))
Preschool-Grade 2. First things first: dassies, or rock hydraxes, are small mammals native to sub-Saharan Africa. In this “Three Little Pigs” adaptation, three dassies strike out to make new homes. While Timbi takes the time to construct a solid stone dwelling, hasty siblings Mimbi and Pimbi use grass and sticks, respectively. After being pursued by an eagle, the dassies’ natural predator (playing the wolf’s traditional role here), Mimbi and Pimbi find shelter at Timbi’s, where a blast from the chimney sends the villainous bird “home for a nap,” wrapping up the tale with a nonviolent end. The familiar plotline is extended in the intricate watercolor-and-gouache artwork in Brett’s signature triptych layout: each central panel reflects the action described in the text, while wordless panels on either side show equally involving scenes, all handsomely framed by depictions of cloth, beadwork, and vegetation. Brett invokes the African setting with details of the desert landscape and the animals’ colorful, patterned clothing. The last page turns the story into an inspired pourquoi tale about dassies’ habitat and the sootlike coloring of native eagles.