Friday, March 30, 2012

Forsythia & Me

Booklist (January 1, 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 9))

Preschool-Grade 2. Chester adores his best friend, Forsythia, and he is breathless with admiration at her amazing feats. She makes him a tall, layered birthday cake and then flies right out of it; she grows shining purple roses that bloom in the middle of winter snow; she can play piano while standing on her head; and she has tamed the ferocious animals at the city zoo so well “that they never arrive late for tea.” Then there is a reversal when Forsythia is not feeling well, and Chester performs amazing feats for her. He rearranges all her stuffed animals, gives her a bouquet of her namesake flower, and plays “Chopsticks” on his accordion for her with only 13 mistakes. The young audience will welcome the wild, imaginative play and the story of loyal friendship, all captured in the winsome ink, watercolor, and pencil illustrations.

Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry

Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2011)

Ten-year-old Emmy Addison returns with rodent pal Raston Rat to prove she's a responsible kid who still has what it takes to outwit her former nanny, the devious Jane Barmy, in this fast-paced sequel toEmmy and the Home for Troubled Girls(2008). Fresh from their unscrupulous ventures three weeks ago, when they were transformed into rats, shameless Jane Barmy and her besotted partner in crime, Cheswick Vole, resurface, intent on revenge. While vandalizing Emmy's bedroom to frame her for irresponsibility, the dastardly duo learn Professor Capybara has developed patches embedded with kisses from Raston's sister Sissy that can turn them back into full-sized humans. Together they steal Capybara's formula, dupe Emmy's parents into sending her to visit her great aunts in Schenectady and trick Sissy to go with Emmy to find her "Ratmom." In Schenectady, bats "ratnap" Sissy, who's forced to produce more patches while Emmy discovers her elderly great aunts barely surviving on their own. Using every transforming rodent trick (bites, kisses and reverse aging tears), Emmy and Raston crash a river-rat bar, scale a batty belfry and stow away on a train, attempting to rescue Sissy and save the aunts. The complicated, improbable but highly entertaining plot showcases brave, responsible Emmy and hilarious, irresponsible Raston. Bats appropriately swirl in the flip-book feature. Fans of Emmy and Raston will welcome their latest escapades.(Fantasy. 9-12)

Chocolate Moose

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

Preschool-Grade 2. What’s the difference between a u and an o? A mouse and a moose! Moose loves chocolate, but when he misreads the Help Wanted sign in the window of Mrs. Mouse’s bakery, it becomes quickly evident that he may be in for trouble. The mouse-sized bakery cannot accommodate his moose-sized body, and he’s too large to handle the tiny kitchen utensils. This sugar-sweet story has a perennially wise message at its center: we all have talents, it just takes a while to find them. Although Moose is hopeless as a baker, he is ideal as a babysitter to Mrs. Mouse’s crying children. This is a winsome offering, illustrated in soft-edged shapes and pastel colors. Moose has a Pooh-bear cuddliness, while the mice are drawn with more detail. Their clothes and expressions distinguish them from each other, and the size difference among creatures is exaggerated for good comedic effect as Moose bumbles about. The baby mice are delighted with Moose, and children will be, too.

999 Tadpoles

Booklist starred (July 2011 (Vol. 107, No. 21))

Preschool-Grade 3. Though justifiably proud of their 999 offspring, Mother and Father Frog know that it’s time to find a bigger pond. They are all crossing a field when a hawk snatches Father and begins to fly away. Quickly, Mother grabs Father’s leg, a young frog grabs hers, another grabs her, and so on until the predator is hauling a heavy chain of frogs. Unwilling to lose “a whole year’s supply,” the hawk holds on as long as he can, but eventually he lets go, and 1,001 frogs fall to their . . . new home in a big pond. Translated from the Japanese, this amusing picture book was given the same English title as a 2006 picture book with the same author, illustrator, and title but a different story and artwork. Even if you have the first book, you don’t want to miss this one. Written with a storyteller’s flair, the simple text finds just the right balance of drama and humor to make this tale of thwarted predation a real crowd-pleaser. The naive paintings suit the story well, and the cartoonlike exaggeration of the little frogs' features reassures viewers that, somehow, these upbeat little characters will come out on top. Highly recommended for reading aloud.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2012)

Everyone's favorite grouch of a fowl returns, though the spotlight is firmly fixed elsewhere.Never content to be merely a supporting character, The Pigeon nonetheless takes a backseat in a story in which The Duckling asks for and receives a cookie with nuts.Incensed, The Pigeon proceeds to rant about the various items and impossibilities he has asked for over the years, ignoring point blank the fact that The Duckling got her cookie by asking politely.At the end of the expected meltdown, the smaller bird reveals thatshe only got the cookie in the first place so that she could give it to The Pigeon.Flabbergasted ("Hubba-- Whaa?!?"), our hero leaves with cookie in hand, and The Duckling reveals that her seeming sainthood--she shares slyness as well as color with Tweety Bird--may be a bit of an act.Even those who think they may have tired of The Pigeon's antics will find much to enjoy in this familiar but different outing.The importance of politeness is evident, but its delivery is not didactic in the least.Just as enjoyable as a read-aloud to a group or as a one-on-one lapsit, it's a pleasure to see Willems at the top of his game, and The Pigeon suitably humbled.(Picture book. 3-8)

The Beetle Book

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 15, 2012)

Jenkins' splendid array of beetles will surely produce at least one budding coleopterist. The colors and patterns of this ubiquitous insect (one out of four creatures on the planet is a beetle, Jenkins tells readers) are fascinating, as are the details about the various adaptations that beetles have made over millennia in response to their environment, diet, and predators. "Perhaps the innovation that has been most helpful to the beetle is its pair of rigid outer wings." Beautiful book design and a small but clear freehand-style type contribute to readers' appreciation of the elegant structure and variety of these creatures. Deep, bright hues in the torn-and--cut-paper--collage illustrations set each beetle with its own singular pattern and colors against generous white space. Actual-size silhouettes allow the detailed, larger illustrations to be matched with a realistic appraisal of each beetle's dimensions. A list of the several dozen featured beetles along with their Latin names and their principal geographic locations appears on a two-page opening at the back. Only a couple of quibbles: The author's claim that without the dung beetle "the world's grasslands would soon be buried in animal droppings" begs for a little further explanation; and the absence of a bibliography seems like an oversight. Otherwise, distinguished both as natural history and work of art. (Nonfiction. 7-12)

Wolf Won't Bite!

Horn Book (March/April, 2012)

Creating a circus sideshow with the wolf as its unwilling star, three pigs enjoy taunting a captured wild wolf. The pigs pull up to the circus with the wolf inside a decorated rolling cage, his head and tail protruding from each end, and seem determined to humiliate him at every opportunity. They stand him on a stool, tie an oversized, ridiculous bow around his neck, ride him like a horse, make him jump through hoops, throw knives at him, shoot him through the air like a cannonball, even saw him in two, magician style. No matter what these vindictive pigs do, "Wolf won't bite!" is the joyous refrain of the porcine tormentors. The pigs' bravado and the wolf's compliance seem to have no bounds until the final taunting is just too much for the wolf. Gravett's impeccable pacing, sly visual clues, and clever use of white space elevate this universal story of gloating gone wrong. What appear first to be circus poster fonts turn out to be carefully drawn individual typefaces for each character. The wolf has exactly one word in the book (the last word, of course), and his typeface is deliciously hairy. The wolf's expression, which reflects each fresh indignity, changes ever so slightly at the end to warn the reader that the wolf has Had Enough. The color palette -- heavy on the red and gray -- is reminiscent of that of Falconer's Olivia, and it is quite possible that these three pigs would enjoy her friendship very much. robin l. smith

The Dunderheads Behind Bars

School Library Journal (March 1, 2012)

Gr 2-5-Readers will cheer the return of the Dunderheads, that subversive and exuberant mixed bag of kids named for their unique aptitudes-e.g., Einstein, Wheels, Junkyard, etc. The gang is thrilled to start summer vacation and escape the clutches of their ghastly teacher, Miss Breakbone. But hiring on as extras for a movie starring their favorite actress, Ashley Throbb-Hart, they discover, miserably, that their detestable teacher has done the same. ("I thought she toured with the Women's Wrestling League in the summer," moans Nails.) Meanwhile, a cat burglar is breaking into local homes, and Miss Breakbone spitefully accuses Spider, with his talent for climbing, of being the thief. With him behind bars (the police chief is Miss Breakbone's brother-and alter ego), the Dunderheads go into all-hands-on-deck mode to hatch an ingenious Rube Goldberg-like scheme to snare the real criminal and spring their friend from jail. The wry, economical text works in seamless partnership with the stylized, one-of-a-kind watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations to move the zippy story line forward. The characters' singular personalities and intelligence shine in the quirky details of their clothing and the telling minutiae surrounding them in their homes (not a computer screen in sight but plenty of games, microscopes, and measuring devices). The Dunderheads might be "half-pint hooligans" or underestimated budding geniuses, but either way young readers will surely line up in droves for this winning gang's latest adventure.-Kathleen Finn, St. Francis Xavier School, Winooski, VT (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Booklist starred (February 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 11))

Grades 5-8. Kids’ books about befriending somebody “different” could fill a library. But this debut novel rises to the top through its subtle shifting of focus to those who are “normal,” thereby throwing into doubt presumptions readers may have about any of the characters. Nominally, the story is about 10-year-old August, a homeschooled boy who is about to take the plunge into a private middle school. Even 27 operations later, Auggie’s face has what doctors call “anomolies”; Auggie himself calls it “my tiny, mushed-up face.” He is gentle and smart, but his mere physical presence sends the lives of a dozen people into a tailspin: his sister, his old friends, the new kids he meets, their parents, the school administrators—the list goes on and on. Palacio’s bold move is to leave Auggie’s first-person story to follow these increasingly tangential characters. This storytelling strategy is always fraught with peril because of how readers must refresh their interest level with each new section. However, much like Ilene Cooper’s similarly structured Angel in My Pocket (2011), Palacio’s novel feels not only effortless but downright graceful, and by the stand-up-and-cheer conclusion, readers will be doing just that, and feeling as if they are part of this troubled but ultimately warm-hearted community.

Jasper John Dooley Star of the Week

Booklist (March 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 13))

Grades 2-4. Irrepressible Jasper embraces his role as classroom Star of the Week. True, show-and-tell does not go as planned. His classmates are surprisingly unimpressed by his lint collection, but he has high hopes for Family Tree day. His best friend, Ori, has a baby sister (named “Wa-wa-wa-wa” for her incessant crying), and Jasper wants one, too. Stymied by his parents’ refusal to check the hospital for extra babies, Jasper fleshes out his family tree by building a brother out of wood. Like show-and-tell, having a wooden brother does not unfold as Jasper expects. Characters are likable and quirky, and their exuberance is captured in intermittent pencil illustrations. This well-written, funny, and engaging story is a promising start to a new chapter-book series, and early readers will anticipate Jasper and Ori’s further adventures. Share with kids looking for a boy version of Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series or with fans of Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho books.

Zip It!

Booklist (March 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 13))

Grades K-2. At last, a picture book about that funniest of faux pas—walking around with your zipper undone. Young Joe notices that his dad’s flag is flying first thing in the morning, but as they head out on errands, Dad keeps interrupting his son just as Joe tries to tell him about the heart-patterned underwear showing from his trousers. Everywhere they go, more and more people see this horrifying display, including Joe’s teacher. Lindaman crams the dialogue with references to this revealing situation: “Let’s zip out of here.” “A pop fly to left field.” “Joe can keep it zipped.” “Button up, Joe.” “Make it snappy!” Carlson matches the author blow-by-blow with her colored-pencil illustrations: cartoon panels bordered by zippers, a license plate labeled “XYZPDQ,” such props as flyswatters, etc. The inclusion of a little fly buzzing about seems one element too many, and the ending, featuring a grocery-store intercom, isn’t as natural as it might be. Nevertheless, laughing readers will probably be gasping for air. This book knows its audience.

Robot Zombie Frankenstein!

Kirkus Review (February 1, 2012)

Competitive pals get into a war of escalating ridiculousness in this amusing if visually stunted tale. Two robots introduce themselves to readers, then one zips away and back to reintroduce itself as "Robot ZOMBIE!" Not to be outdone, its companion dons a costume of its own, now appearing as "Robot Zombie Frankenstein!" And up the ante goes. With each change, the robots pile on more and more visual elements (a Frankenstein scar, Groucho glasses, etc.). When the robots both appear as "Robot zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise outer space invader chef," one robot produces a tasty cherry pie and the two dig in, rivalry forgotten and buddies once more. The endpapers display the full roster of shapes that make up each costume. While the effect is novel and the chaos sure to prove hilarious to young readers, there is something oddly static about the digital art itself. In its attempt to simplify the visuals down to their most essential shapes, the story is drained of the vitality and charisma normally associated with Simon's work. Thanks to the use of shapes, this book may work best with craft programs more than anything else. Yet in an era in which electronics are always one-upping one another in the global market, it's nice to see a picture-book equivalent that ends with the consumption of delicious desserts. Apple and PC, take note. (Picture book. 4-8)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Kite Day

Kirkus Review (February 15, 2012)

In this breezy kite affair, the adorable duo of Bear and Mole is back again, reveling in nature. Blue sky and a gusty day make for one ebullient Bear. Huffing home he gathers Mole to commence the kite-making. Together they collect, cut, construct--and find success with their kite until dark clouds appear. A broken string and a spool unspun leave the two racing through rain after a rainbow tail. But urgency turns to quiet joy when their loss (a broken kite) becomes a bird family's gain, as it shelters fledglings from the storm. Simple sentences, often three words or fewer, describe the action, while Hillenbrand's illustrations wonderfully animate the text. The artwork, digitally manipulated pencil with water-based coloring, has a lovely softness; the characters, with their plumpness and simplicity, are extremely appealing. Sophisticated compositions are cinematic or sequentially kinetic, cleverly matching the author's playful use of onomatopoeia. Muted tones that begin the tale give way to darker and more dramatic hues, creating a powerful shift, both visually and emotionally. This gentle and charming read-aloud will make young audiences "awww" with delight. (Picture book. 3-6)

The Art of Miss Chew

Kirkus Review (January 15, 2012)

Art is a language, and the right teacher can change a life is the twin message of this personal story from the exuberant author/illustrator. Polacco provides an unabashedly autobiographical account of a year in grammar school with the Irish Mr. Donovan, who understands that she needs additional time to work at written tests. He also introduces her to Miss Chew, an art teacher, and both immediately recognize Trisha's emerging talent--although the Chinese Miss Chew hears her name as "Ther-esa" and calls her that ever after. It is Miss Chew who discerns Trisha's talent at perceiving negative space and connects it to her difficulties in school: She sees words as patterns, not letters. When Mr. Donovan is called to Ireland upon the death of his father, the substitute will not allow Trisha extra time on exams and tries to keep her from art class. Right prevails--and Trisha gets to have a painting in the high-school art fair, even though she is so young. Polacco's pencil-and-marker art is full of color and movement, with its exaggerated figures and vibrant line. Her characters are always gesturing, caught in mid-sentence. Her first-person narration tells her tragedy and triumph in a very down-to-earth way, using the tone of the 11-year-old she was. The paired lessons--of art as a crucial element in education and of the importance of recognizing different learning styles--come through clearly, leavened by Polacco's use of color and gesture. (Picture book. 6-10)

Bink and Gollie Two For One

The state fair is in town, and now Bink and Gollie - utter opposites and best friends extraordinaire - must use teamwork while navigating its many wonders. As the undaunted duo steps into the mysterious tent of fortune-teller Madame Prunely, one prediction is crystal clear: this unlikely pair will always be the closest of pals. Get ready for more laughs in this wry, warmhearted sequel to the New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book Bink and Gollie, written by the award-winning, best-selling Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee and featuring the exuberant visual humor of illustrator Tony Fucile.

Neo Leo

Booklist (July 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 21))

Grades 1-3. This lively introduction to the visionary ideas of Leonardo da Vinci uses one side of each spread to portray a modern invention, while re-creations of Leonardo’s original sketches occupy the other, accompanied by a quick scene of the great thinker coming up with his fantastic designs. Breaking his massive body of work down into bite-size chunks works well, allowing children to visually align the similarities of his prototypes for an airplane, tank, contact lens, or movie projector with their more modern incarnations mirrored across the fold. Mirrors play yet another role in this book, as bits of additional information about Leonardo’s sketches are presented in the same backward writing that he used in his diaries. Berreta’s colorful and comical artwork keeps the scientific subject matter fun, with smiling, apple-cheeked characters populating the pages and a gray-bearded da Vinci scribbling notes while studying the world around him. A fine choice to introduce the famous man, his peerless ideas, and the forward-thinking role of inventors in general.