Monday, January 23, 2012

King Hugo's Huge Ego

School Library Journal (August 1, 2011)

Gr 1-3-King Hugo is a mini monarch (he's three foot three) who thinks very highly of himself. He makes his subjects bow to him as he extols his magnificence throughout the kingdom. One day his royal coach careens by a woman working along the road and sends her into a ditch. She just happens to be a sorceress and casts a spell on him. Each time he begins to brag, his head grows a tad bigger. When he topples from the top of the castle and rolls like a boulder into the valley, he once again meets the sorceress, who reveals her curse. To prove she is the creator of his misfortune, she allows all the haughty things he has said to explode from his head. Returning to his original appearance, he realizes what a fool he had been and humbly apologizes. "What happened next was kismet/yet truly unforeseen:/he became a better man,/and she became a queen!" This enchanting story in verse will appeal to readers who can laugh at the foolhardy king while enjoying his bizarre transformation. Children will revel at the fanciful illustrations and celebrate when the braggart receives his comeuppance. The gouache illustrations demand attention and are rich in comedic detail with a fairy-tale quality. This is a great group read-aloud that offers opportunity for reflection and discussion.-Diane Antezzo, Ridgefield Library, CT (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Follow The Line To School

School Library Journal (July 1, 2011)

PreS-Gr 2-This book has all of the ingredients for "dialogic reading." It is practically a user's guide for how an adult and child can engage in conversation while reading together. As with Ljungkvist's other "Follow the Line" books, it takes readers through a familiar setting-school-and asks youngsters to find, count, or reply to prompts, such as, "Fred is the class pet. Can you guess what kind of animal he is?" The answers aren't always as easy as they might seem. This particular book is great for familiarizing pre-kindergarteners with all of the possibilities of an engaging school environment, or for talking about similarities and differences between the artist's images and a child's current institution. As readers follow the line from page to page, they encounter areas that may be confined to a classroom, or may have separate quarters, such as the art, music, and eating areas. The clever mixed-media artwork is brimming with familiar artifacts and tools, yet Ljungkvist's clean-cut Scandinavian style and simplicity of composition keep the pages from being visually overwhelming.-Maggie Chase, Boise State University, ID (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Horn Book (November/December, 2011)

Bailey loves school, where he is by far the most popular student. Then again, he is the only dog at Champlain Elementary School. No one can resist a dog who hangs his head out the school bus window, willing the bus to go "Faster! Faster!" or seriously considers the principal's advice, "Try not to lick anyone today." While the straightforward sentences tell of a day in the life of a school dog, it's the pithy speech and thought bubbles that really bring on the giggles. Bliss's children have an adult look to them -- their heads seem a bit big and their hairstyles more grown-up than kid -- which also adds humor. Children will love watching Bailey read and write, put his own spin on arithmetic, and try to trade food at lunch. Though Bailey has surprising human skills, he is still a garbage-picking, squirrel-following, tail-wagging canine. Most of the spreads have details that will be revealed upon rereading, such as the amusing book titles and a cat calendar in Bailey's bedroom. A classmate like Bailey would make any day at school a better one. robin l. smith

How to Teach a Slug to Read

Kirkus Review (January 15, 2011)

Pearson is a slug intimate, having previously charted the course of two Slugs in Love (illustrated by Kevin O'Malley, 2006), so who better to explain, exactly, the best way to teach a slug to read? It is really quite elementary, starting with opening the book (make sure it has slug characters), read it to the slug, point out repeating words, help sound them out, get a vocabulary list going, underline favorite words and, you bet, "[r]ead your slug's favorite poems to him as many times as he wants. Read him other books too!" This slug's favorite is Mother Slug's book of poetry, with such old gems as "Mary had a little slug, / His skin was smooth as silk" and "Whatever can the matter be? / Sally Slug has climbed a tree" and "Sweet Sammy Slug / Slides through the town." Slonim's upbeat illustrations give readers a sense that they are there with the slugs, flipping the pages, while the interjections from the slugs-"Sl-uh-uh-g! Hey, I can read SLUG!"-convey, with a light hand, the joys of reading. And though it isn't cricket to diminish a slug's capabilities, readers can't help but feel that if a slug is up to the task, well then, maybe someone else in the room is, too. (Picture book. 4-8)

The Friendship Doll

School Library Journal (August 1, 2011)

Gr 4-6-Larson brings her talent for historical fiction to this story of one of the 58 handcrafted, child-size dolls Japan presented to the United States in 1927 as a goodwill gesture. Fans of doll stories will be enchanted by the way Miss Kanagawa changes the lives of five children of varying circumstances over a span of decades and learns to feel love despite herself. The theme of being kind to others could come across as didactic in less-skilled hands than Larson's, but the initial contrast between the doll's moralizing, superior tone and her actual disregard for humans lightens the mood considerably. The story is not solely lighthearted, however; heavy topics such as death, grief, and aging are addressed in a straightforward yet remarkably affecting manner. The book's background is meticulously researched, with the era of the 1920s-'40s evoked through slang and radio-show references, and authentic Japanese cultural details are thoughtfully described. An author's note explains that some pivotal plot points are fictionalized, but the true story of the Friendship Dolls is so intriguing that readers may be moved to learn more. A little research shows that the author cleverly constructed the narrative to match Miss Kanagawa's real-life fate, a detail that will delight historical-fiction enthusiasts. The idea of a doll becoming more human through its interactions with children may not be wholly original, but that is part of the comforting appeal of this lovely tribute to a little-known piece of history.-Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


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

Preschool-Grade 3. Little Jane loves her stuffed animal, a chimpanzee named Jubilee, and carries him everywhere she goes. Mainly, they go outdoors, where they watch birds building their nests and squirrels chasing each other. Jane reads about animals in books and keeps a notebook of sketches, information, and puzzles. Feeling her kinship with all of nature, she often climbs her favorite tree and reads about another Jane, Tarzan’s Jane. She dreams that one day she, too, will live in the African jungle and help the animals. And one day, she does. With the story’s last page turn, the illustrations change from ink-and-watercolor scenes of Jane as a child, toting Jubilee, to a color photo of Jane Goodall as a young woman in Africa, extending her hand to a chimpanzee. Quietly told and expressively illustrated, the story of the child as a budding naturalist is charming on its own, but the photo on the last page opens it up through a well-chosen image that illuminates the connections between childhood dreams and adult reality. On two appended pages, “About Jane Goodall” describes her work, while “A Message from Jane” invites others to get involved. This remarkable picture book is one of the few that speaks, in a meaningful way, to all ages

Wiener Wolf

Publishers Weekly (May 2, 2011)

Crosby (Little Lions, Bull Baiters, & Hunting Hounds) turns in a tight, polished performance in this story of a dachshund that answers the call of the wild (and then redials). Crosby's paintings display a thorough understanding of his hero's boredom-and sense of adventure. Wiener Dog lies belly up in his dog bed, watching as Granny slops another can of wet dog food into his bowl; one can almost hear him groan. So when he runs away and befriends a pack of wolves, life seems ideal. "He had a new backyard and a new water dish and new squeaky toys," Crosby writes as Wiener Dog runs through the forest, drinks from a stream, and tussles with adorable wolf cubs. Ideal, that is, until the climax of the wolves' hunt; it occurs offstage, but is clearly bloody. "Yikes!" says Wiener Dog. Crosby employs an array of techniques in his visual storytelling, from the way Wiener Dog appears to run right out of spot illustrations to the hilarious contrast between the turtleneck sweater-wearing dog and the slavering wolves. This wiener's a winner. Ages 4-7. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Cat Secrets

School Library Journal (January 1, 2011)

K-Gr 2-For anyone who has ever suspected that cats have their own secret society, this amusing book proves it. Three felines prepare to read Cat Secrets, a book so precious it's kept in a protective glass case. But first they need to make sure that there are no noncats around, and begin their investigations. They break through the fourth wall and directly challenge readers to meow, purr, and stretch. They take some convincing, and are so preoccupied with readers that they do not see a mouse sneaking around them, angling to snatch the book himself. The cats' willingness to read their secrets aloud hinges on one final test (taking a nap), which they proceed to do, giving the mouse free access to the tome. Czekaj's cartoons done in a palette of primary colors and with expressive use of speech bubbles and eyebrows make this a comedic gem. The book has obvious appeal as a read-aloud, with its instructions and large-format cartoons, but it has the intimacy of a story to be read independently. Emerging readers who have cut their teeth on Mo Willems's similarly chatty "Elephant and Piggie" series (Hyperion) will feel more than capable of tackling this book.-Kara Schaff Dean, Walpole Public Library, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Extra Yarn

Booklist starred (December 15, 2011 (Vol. 108, No. 8))

Grades K-2. This understated picture book is certain to spark the imagination of every child who comes upon it, and what could be better than that? Annabelle lives in a black-and-white world, where everything is drab, drab, drab. So imagine her surprise when she finds a box filled with yarn of every color. Armed with the yarn and knitting needles, she makes herself a sweater, but after she finishes, she finds that she has extra yarn left over. After knitting a sweater for her dog, her classmates, and various (hilariously unsurprised) bunnies and bears, she still has extra yarn. So, Annabelle turns her attention to things that don’t usually wear wool cozies: houses and cars and mailboxes. Soon an evil archduke with a sinister mustache “who was very fond of clothes” hears about the magic box of never-ending yarn, and he wants it for his own. Reading like a droll fairy tale, this Barnett-Klassen collaboration is both seamless and magical. The spare, elegant text and art are also infused with plenty of deadpan humor. Klassen (I Want My Hat Back, 2011) uses ink, gouache, and digital illustration to fashion Annabelle’s world out of geometric shapes, set against dark, saturated pages, and against white as the town comes to colorful, stitched life. Quirky and wonderful, this story quietly celebrates a child’s ingenuity and her ability to change the world around her

Monday, January 9, 2012

Say Hello To Zorro!

Kirkus Review starred (February 1, 2011)

Being a dog, Mr. Bud leads a dog's life. It is most gratifying: eat, walk, nap, nap, nap, eat, walk, movie, sleep-"and everybody stuck to the schedule. No exceptions." Then young Zorro, a pug, joins the family and threatens to make a hash of things. Zorro comes equipped with his own toys, his own moods and-forefend!-his own schedule, but it turns out to jibe with Mr. Bud's, and that common ground launches their friendship. Goodrich has a delightfully economical and humorous voice: trim yet filled with barely contained emotion-kind of like a dog. "One day, right at greet and make a fuss time... / there was a stranger. / And there was trouble" (the fateful confrontation takes place over three pages). In the background, in a lighter typeface, are the voices of humans, largely ignored. And the artwork is arresting, done in watercolors of enormous personality and quality. Mr. Bud is a mutt and mostly nose; Zorro is all face: expressive, raccoon eyes and a mouth that speaks volumes if not words. Goodrich catches them in classic dog behavior-supine with legs akimbo, charging out the door before it is fully open, expectant with chin on the edge of the bed-and he graces them with the kind of appeal that you really want to see them again.(Picture book. 4-8)

Max's Castle

Kirkus Review starred (August 15, 2011)

Banks and Kulikov's Max is back in his third escapade of wordplay. Billing it as a sequel to Max's Words (2006) and Max's Dragon (2008), this author/illustrator team again presents a clever tale that embodies the possibilities of a child's imagination. When Max finds something amazing in a box under his bed-wooden alphabet blocks-he uses them to start building a castle. His two older brothers get into the act, and, lo and behold, WALLS become HALLS, a MOAT becomes a BOAT, PIRATES become RAT PIES, and BATTLE becomes BABBLE as the boys move the blocks, rearrange letters and transform words into a full-blown castle scenario. That is, until the castle comes under siege by a BLACK CAT turned BLOCK CAT ("It must smell the rat pies," says Karl). Playful perspectives, vivid colors and animated action are brilliantly executed with details that require a second look, then a third. Kulikov takes readers back and forth from reality to fantasy using the alphabet blocks as a bridge in inspiring fashion. The "king called his knights to the round table. And for their loyal FEATS he organized a FEAST. From the castle TAPESTRY he made PASTRY. And from the PARAPETS he made TEA." This homage to the power of imagination one ingenious and entertaining game of wordplay. (Picture book. 5-8)

The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man

School Library Journal (August 1, 2011)

K-Gr 2-Awesome Man can smash through the time barrier, shoot positronic rays out of his eyeballs, and combat mutant Jell-O from Beyond the Stars. "But don't think it's nonstop fun and photons being Awesome Man. Sometimes it can be pretty hard.." When a superhero feels tired and angry, he can always head for the Fortress of Awesome, where Mom is waiting with cheese and crackers and chocolate milk. Chabon's first picture book discharges delectable language like "several billion kilojoules per nanosecond," "Professor Von Evil in his Antimatter Slimebot," and "thermo vulcanized protein-delivery orb." Things are more likely to skloosh and skarunch than not. Verbiage like this nudges the story into read-aloud territory, and children will be swooping around the room as they listen. But if they stop long enough to peek at the pages, they'll enjoy the way Parker kicks it up another notch with hyperkinetic, hypercolored comic-book action scenes. The depiction of a showdown between Awesome Man and his nemesis-the Flaming Eyeball-is priceless. Readers may notice that there's a moral peeking out from Awesome Man's cape, but they'll still grab this story in their "ginormous Awesome Power Grip" and not let go.-Susan Weitz, formerly at Spencer-Van Etten School District, Spencer, NY (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Little Red Pen

Horn Book (March/April, 2011)

Poor Little Red Pen -- she always has to do everything herself. The stack of papers to grade threatens to overtake her, and she calls for help from her friends who are hiding in the desk drawer: the stapler, scissors, pencil, eraser, pushpin, and highlighter. The excuses mount up, and Little Red Pen knows she will have to do all the work herself. While laboring, she becomes exhausted and falls into the Pit of No Return -- the trashcan. The lazy office supplies come up with a Rube Goldberg contraption in order to rescue her, complete with rulers, paper clips, a hamster, and enough plays on words to keep even the most jaded reader chortling. Stevens's humor-filled watercolors are busy and active, especially since each character is a familiar object with its own personality, facial and body expressions, color, and even typeface. Particularly memorable are the stapler, with amazing teeth and tired eyes; the lime-green highlighter's bushy hair; and the sassy Latina pushpin, Senorita Chincheta. A rollicking read-aloud, this is a book that begs to be turned into a class play, readers' theater, or puppet show. robin l. smith

The Fourth Stall

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

Grades 4-7. Sixth-graders Mac and Vince have been running an advice and assistance service for fellow grade-school students since they were in kindergarten. Mac is a problem solver, Vince is a whiz at keeping track of the money and favors they earn, and both boys are avid Chicago Cubs fans. Their “office” is located in an underused school bathroom, hence this first novel’s title. The business takes a beating—and then so does the boys’ friendship—when an older kid applies muscle to the threats he has made to grade-schoolers who owe gambling debts. Rylander has created a cast of memorable and varied characters, replete with emotional as well as social lives. Mac narrates the convoluted tale with the arch flatness of a 1940s satire of the noir detective genre, so swallowing even the more preposterous coincidences is easy for the sake of the story’s fun. An excellent boy book that would do well in a father-son book discussion.

The Flint Heart

Kirkus Review starred (August 15, 2011)

A heart-shaped talisman created in the Stone Age brings terribly corrupting power to those who possess it, until 12-year-old Charles Jago manages to destroy it permanently. This magical adventure begins with the fashioning of a piece of flint into a charm for hardening hearts. A hard-hearted individual can rule his tribe in the Stone Age and, fast-forwarding to the early 20th century, become the leader in one's community, but at a cost to his good nature, family and friends. That's what happens first to Charles' father, then to an imp called a Jacky Toad and then to a badger. Happily and with help from his little sister, his dog, the king of Fairyland, a talking hot-water bottle and the all-knowing Zagabog, Charles wrests the stone away from each one in turn, with no harm done. After all, this is a fairy tale. Written by Eden Phillpotts and first published in 1910, this traditional story has been deftly abridged and brought up to date by the Patersons. They've preserved the faintly English narrative voice and humor, idiosyncratic characters, lively action, distinctive Dartmoor setting and even many of the words. The 21st-century version features thoughtful design and Rocco's digitally colored film-animation-style illustrations, including chapter-heads, full-page images and decorations throughout. A grand tale skillfully updated and tightened up, this should win the hearts of a new generation. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Won Ton

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

Grades K-3. Although the subtitle says haiku, as Wardlaw explains in her opening author’s note, the poems that make up this picture-book celebration of the child-pet bond are actually written in similarly structured senryu, a form that focuses on personality and behavior instead of on the natural world, as haiku does. Here the central personality belongs to a feisty shelter cat who has never known cozy domestic life: “Nice place they got here. / Bed. Bowl. Blankie. Just like home. / Or so I’ve been told.” Then a boy arrives, scoops the cat from his cage, brings him home, and names him Won Ton (“How can I / be soup? Some day, I’ll tell you / my real name. Maybe”). Both the tightly constructed lines and elegant, playful illustrations unerringly imagine a cat’s world, including the characteristic feline seesaw between aloof independence and purring, kneading adoration. Like Bob Raczka’s Guyku (2010), this title shows that poetry can be fun, free, and immediate, even as it follows traditional structure; “The Car Ride,” for example, reads, “Letmeoutletme / outletmeoutletmeout. / Wait—let me back in!” Yelchin’s expressive graphite-and-gouache artwork nods to the poetic form’s roots with echoes of Japanese woodblock prints and creates a lovable, believable character in this wry, heartwarming title that’s sure to find wide acceptance in the classroom and beyond.

Press Here

Booklist (April 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 15))

Preschool-Grade 2. Without so much as a single tab to pull or flap to turn, this might be the most interactive picture book of the year. A simple yellow dot greets readers on the first page: “Press here and turn the page.” A second dot appears; then, after touching that, a third. The simple commands continue, as the reader rubs, taps, shakes, blows, and tilts the book, causing the various dots to react as if the actually book contained a multidimensional space. For example, blowing on the page at one point gets rid of a black background—but now all the dots are shoved up against the top, leaving a huge expanse of white. No problem: “Stand the book up straight to make those dots drop down again.” It’s impossible—impossible!—not to do what the unseen narrator asks, and those who pick this up is going to find themselves looking a mite silly, which is all part of the fun. The bright primary colors and heavy stock make this spartan affair look like a toy, which is entirely appropriate.