Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream

Booklist (December 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 7))
Grades 2-4. In the tradition of Judy Moody and Clementine comes Clara Lee. Clara is a typical third-grader who neatly combines her Korean and American sides. Her warm, supportive family includes a grandfather who is always there for her, especially when she decides to pursue her dream of being Little Miss Apple Pie, riding in the float in her town’s apple festival. In a plot that will resonate with kids, Clara is scared when she dreams her grandfather dies, but Grandfather tells her that in Korean tradition that means good luck is coming. And sure enough, Clara’s luck does take a turn for the better, with a newfound ability in gym class, a surprise present in her desk, and the courage (almost) to write the speech that could be her ticket to the apple festival. But luck has a habit of changing too, and when things aren’t going quite as well, Clara wonders if she should give up her dream. A realistic group of characters, both adults and children, and true-to-life situations will make this illustrated chapter book a favorite.

Penny Dreadful

Booklist starred (October 1, 2010 (Vol. 107, No. 3))
Grades 3-6. Penelope Grey lives a lovely life in the city, with a stone mansion, servants, toys, and plenty of books. Perhaps she is a little short on friends. And her parents are very busy. But lovely. Then one day, her father comes home and informs his family he has quit his job. This declaration of independence leads Penelope and her parents to Thrush Junction, Tennessee, where Mrs. Grey has inherited a house, but as they quickly learn, it comes with a massive second mortgage and lodgers, who, according to the terms of her aunt’s will, can live in the connected apartments without paying rent. There are a few quibbles here. The Greys could have gotten to Thrush Junction a little faster, and Mr. and Mrs. Grey sometimes seem out of touch with their situation (would Mom really not know there was a lien on the house before moving?). But Penny is a wonderful character, and the kids she meets in Thrush Junction make a perfect “our gang” to have just the sort of small-town adventures Snyder sets up for them (all illustrated in delightful pencil drawings that appear throughout). The tone harkens back a bit, but the fun is reminiscent of the very books Penny gives a shout-out to—Betsy-Tacy, Ballet Shoes, and The Penderwicks—and what could be nicer than that?

Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World)

Kirkus Review starred (May 15, 2010)
Santat's brilliantly hued digital illustrations are the perfect foil for Barnett's almost-wordless tale of a science project gone awry. When the bespectacled heroine surveys the post-apocalyptic opening scene, the speech bubbles tell the tale--"Oh no...oh man...I knew it." Like a 1950s B-movie, complete with the widescreen boundaries, the drama of her prize-winning robot stalking New York is one part cautionary tale and many parts over-the-top humor. When she screams, "HEY, ROBOT! KNOCK IT OFF ALREADY!" the page turn shows her shaky, understated realization, "I should have given it ears." In a world where technology progresses rapidly and consequences are often not anticipated, this lesson in "I should have" is subtle, never preachy and always action-packed. Comic-book, picture-book and movie styles come together in a well-designed package that includes a movie poster on the reverse side of the jacket, an old-time computation book as the inside cover and detailed scientific drawings on the endpapers. The Japanese subtitles and translations on the pages before the title add to the fun. The only thing missing are the 3-D glasses! A must-have. (Picture book. 4-10)

Johnny Boo and the Mean Little Boy

Booklist (March 1, 2010 (Online))
Grades K-3. When Johnny Boo is busy with another friend, Squiggle tries to make a new friend of his own but instead gets captured by a butterfly-hunting boy. Continuing to offer the same bright colors and youthful fun of the first three Johnny Boo graphic novels, Kochalka’s story will be a hit with young readers. Kids will identify with a subplot about trying—and failing—to make it to a bathroom on time and will understand Squiggle’s hurt feelings when Johnny leaves him out of the fun. A great addition to children’s graphic-novel collections that is sure to bring plenty of laughs.

Fairly Fairy Tales

Booklist (February 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 11))
Preschool-Grade 2. Kids current on their fairy tales will appreciate the whimsical way Codell spins the basics by adding one oddball element to each story told by a mother to her recalcitrant boy at bedtime. In the tale of the Three Little Pigs, for instance, solar panels make an appearance along with the straw and bricks. After the boy checks off the tried-and-true elements of Little Red Riding Hood—red hood, wolf, and grandma—he has to pause to consider if shampoo can figure into the plot: NOOOOO! Well, maybe. Chavarri’s colorful, almost wordless two-page spreads imagine how the twists impact each story and are packed with details delighted readers will pore over. At Grandma’s Beauty Salon, for instance, several wolves, one wearing a Big ’N’ Bad T-shirt, are getting their fur pampered. Baskets of goodies are for sale, and Grandma is painting the heroine’s nails with Lil’ Red polish. This fun outing will be a surefire winner whenever it’s read—bedtime or not.