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.

Fly Guy vs. the Flyswatter!

School Library Journal (September 1, 2011)

PreS-Gr 2-This 10th addition to the early-reader series is sure to be a hit with young patrons, especially those who have enjoyed the silly adventures of Buzz and his pet. In this tale, Fly Guy is eating a hearty breakfast from Buzz's leftover lunch inside the boy's backpack. Buzz discovers his pal when he opens his backpack at school, and he puts him in his shirt pocket for the day. The irony of this adventure is that the class is headed on a field trip to a flyswatter factory, and the antics that follow will keep youngsters turning the pages. Clear, comic-style drawings, well-balanced white space, and whimsically wide-eyed characters provide beginning readers with a rollicking adventure. This is another winner, especially when searching for books for boys; definitely put this one on your shelves.-Melissa Smith, Royal Oak Public Library, MI (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Secrets At Sea

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

Grades 4-7. As the eldest, Helena has taken charge of her orphaned siblings. It is her job to keep the younger mice safe—not much of a challenge, really, except for avoiding the occasional snake and keeping the daring Louise from being seen by humans. However, when word comes that the Cranstons, the people upstairs, are sailing for Europe to give their eldest daughter, Olive, “Her Chance,” the mice must conquer their fear of drowning to accompany the family across the Atlantic or else stay behind and starve. This delightful romp, told by Helena, is enhanced by whimsical black-and-white illustrations. By turns poignant and playful, engaging and exciting, and with a touch of romance, the story will have great appeal for the audience. The characters (both two- and four-legged) are well drawn, and the timeless themes—the importance of family, the need for courage—add heft.

Every Thing On It

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

Grades 2-7. Members of Shel Silverstein’s family have selected poems and drawings from his personal archive for a volume to follow Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974), A Light in the Attic (1981), and Falling Up (1996). The result is unmistakably Silverstein, with insouciant rhymes, playful scansion, furious humor, and the odd scatological reference, packaged with a tight typeface and whimsical ink drawings set against ample white space. The poems, ranging from two-line zingers to three-page odes, cover a lot of emotional territory, examining the many difficulties and joys of being young and growing up. Moments of melancholy and nostalgia balance the otherwise sharp frivolity. Fans of Silverstein’s oeuvre will find more to appreciate, while newcomers who have yet to discover his individual tone will be prompted to seek out the classics.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Name Is Elizabeth!

Kirkus Review starred (August 15, 2011)

Don't call her Betsy. After all, though she may seem part Olivia and part Lilly (with just a smidgen of Chrysanthemum), right on the cover the protagonist declares, "My name is Elizabeth!" She then lauds the virtues of her "nine letters long" moniker,concluding, "I also like that there is a queen named after me!" Alas, Elizabeth must fend off "Lizzy," "Liz," "Beth" and "Betsy's" aplenty as her granddad, a neighborhood boy, a merchant and a crossing guard greet her with these nicknames. Never bratty, this girl simply knows who she is and what she wants to be called. Forsythe's restrained color palette and expressive line contribute to his brilliant rendering of Elizabeth's character, and his whimsical inclusion of a pet duck (unmentioned in the text) adds another layer of idiosyncratic delight. A double whammy of a punch line first shows readers that "Elizabeth" isn't quite the mouthful her full name is and then underscores her true sweetness when she acquiesces to having her heretofore-silent baby brother call her "Wizabef?" "Close enough," she thinks. This debut picture-book offering from Dunklee and Forsythe is close enough to perfect in its tone, pacing and interplay between words and pictures: Wonderful. (Picture book. 3-7)

Love, Mouserella

Kirkus Review starred (August 15, 2011)

Bestrewing lined sheets with crayon drawings, Polaroids, smudges, a ketchup packet (not a real one) and other signs of affection, a mouseling writes a newsy love note to her Grandmouse. "I don't know what to write..." she starts-but that problem disappears in a twinkling, as her attention flits from a crafts project to a pet ladybug ("I taught her to fetch"), from a museum visit ("At the butterfly tent I put honey from the cafeteria on my ears so butterflies would land on me. But none did") to flashlight shadow puppets during the previous week's blackout. Showing his customary gift for spot-on evocations of childlike voice and sensibility, Caldecott honoree Stein (Interrupting Chicken, 2010) interweaves Mouserella's loosely connected comments with decorative crayon sketches, relatively more finished vignettes representing pictures in her imagination or scenes she is describing and painted "photos" of a pet chrysalis, Dadmouse and other subjects. "Write back," she concludes, after expressing hopes of a future visit. "I mouse you." Awww. Sometimes snail mail is just better. Here's proof. (Picture book. 5-7)

Otis and the Tornado

School Library Journal (October 1, 2011)

PreS-Gr 2-The tractor with the big heart is back in another adventure. Life on the farm is fairly peaceful, except for a menacing bull, which frightens both the tractor and the farm inhabitants. Otis and the animals keep their distance from him-until the day a storm arrives. The tractor knows "deep down in his pipes" that the approaching tempest is no ordinary storm, so working fast he helps his friends find cover in Mud Creek. But from that safe spot the group can hear the dreadful cry of the bull, locked in its pen and smack in the path of the speeding tornado. True to his nature, Otis rushes to the rescue and together they find shelter from the twister. Long offers readers a tender tale with exquisite artwork. The large, gouache-and-pencil illustrations feature unusual perspective and outlined forms with bold dashes of color that contrast with earth-tone backgrounds. The pictures have a retro quality that matches Otis's vintage perfectly. Children will be delighted with this story about friendship.-Diane Antezzo, Ridgefield Library, CT (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

2011-2012 Texas Bluebonnet Reading List

•Angleberger, Tom. 2010. The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda.
•Barnett, Mac. 2009. The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity.
•Bildner, Phil. 2010. The Hallelujah Flight.
•Butler, Dori Hillestad. 2010. The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy.
•Carris, Joan. 2009. Wild Times at the Bed and Biscuit.
•Catanese, P. W. 2009. Happenstance Found.
•de Seve, Randall. 2009. The Duchess of Whimsy: An Absolutely Delicious Fairy Tale.
•Draper, Sharon. 2010. Out of My Mind.
•Fleming, Candace. 2009. Imogene's Last Stand.

•Holm, Jennifer L. 2010. Turtle in Paradise.
•Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2010. Amazing Faces.
•Javaherbin, Mina. 2010. Goal!.
•Kerley, Barbara. 2010. The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy).
•Lewin, Ted and Betsy Lewin. 2009. Balarama: A Royal Elephant.
•McDonough, Yona Zeldis. 2009. Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott

•McGowan, Keith. 2009. The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children.
•Nelson, S. D. 2010. Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story.
•Phelan, Matt. 2009. The Storm in the Barn.
•Singer, Marilyn. 2010. Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse.
•West, Jacqueline. 2010. The Shadows.

Please Write In This Book

Kirkus Review (November 15, 2006)

When a teacher leaves an enticingly blank book in a corner, it becomes a record of classroom rivalries, diplomacy and growth in this deceptively lighthearted offering from the creator of the Riot Brothers. In a variety of handwritten-style entries festooned with childlike drawings, bossy Lizzy and brash Luke ("rhymes with puke") go head-to-head as animal-loving Keesha, meek Yoshiko, budding engineer Milton and others chime in. Slowly, the gross-out remarks, outraged responses, pleas for amity, wild tall tales, authentically lame verse and sycophantic comments take on a different character. By the end, everyone-even initially aliterate Jimmy-is on the same page, enthusiastically taking turns contributing to a collectively composed story about rescuing the teacher from alien kidnappers. Along with warming the cockles of any educator's heart, this record of successful class dynamics will draw reluctant readers with its funny dialogue and please fans of Kate Klise's illustrated romps. (Fiction. 9-11)

Star Jumper

Booklist (July 2006 (Vol. 102, No. 21))

Gr. 3-5. In this gently amusing chapter book, the versatile Asch addresses two timeless subjects: the evil of little brothers and the joys of invention. Alex's younger sibling is "the biggest pain in the butt this side of Alpha Centauri."But Alex, an immodest kid genius, has a plan: he carefully transforms cardboard boxes and duct tape into a spaceship, a micro-blaster, and a duplicator. He is going to the end of the universe to escape. Jonathan, who thinks Alex is making him a castle, has other ideas. When the duplicator makes too many Alexes and Jonathans, both brothers, upon returning to their single selves, finally find some common ground. Told in Alex's voice, the sf fantasy is extended with informative references to math and science, a subplot about Alex's crush on a neighborhood girl, and many illustrations--primarily sketches of the contraptions. Readers who like to tinker and dream will be the best audience for this tongue-in-cheek tale, in which the lines between imagination and reality are intriguingly blurred.