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)