Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Awesome Dawson

Booklist (April 15, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 16))

Grades K-2. Dawson is a repurposer extraordinaire. He collects all manner of junk and pieces together tools and toys from suburban detritus (roller skates, a bedsheet, and a crate, for instance, combine into “a fun way to get to school”). With his trusted companion, Mooey, a talking cow head with interchangeable bodies, he undertakes his biggest project to date: a giant, chore-doing robot called the Vacu-Maniac. True to his name, the robot soon goes out of control, sucking up everything in his path and growing bigger with each accumulation. By implanting Mooey in the robot’s head, Dawson is able to save the day. Gall’s busy, saturated spreads combine hand-scratched clay board with digital colorization, resulting in vibrant imagery that is both slick and homespun, like Dawson’s own creations. Paneled composition and word-balloon dialogue lend a graphic feel, with glossary labels identifying all the bits and pieces of Dawson’s creativity. Superheroes, recyclers, and inventors unite!


My Snake Blake

 Kirkus Reviews starred (May 1, 2012)

Blake the snake just might be the most spectacular pet of all time. Dad brings home a very long, bright-green snake to the delight of his son and the dubious reluctance of Mom. But this snake quickly proves to be highly unusual and extremely talented. He twists his body to form the letters of his name in beautifully realized cursive writing, adding reassuring words to calm Mom's fears. Blake goes on to become a valued member of the family. Some of his talents are definitely snake-appropriate, like catching flies and licking dishes clean. But he also cooks, finds lost items, helps with homework, walks the dog, and offers protection against bullies. Although there are some situations that are a little dicey, as when his simple presence scares other passengers on an airline, all in all Blake is a "perfectly polite, delightful snake." Siegel's unnamed boy narrates the tale joyfully and enthusiastically, making Blake's oddities completely believable. The language is breezy and quirky with lots of goofy dialogue and some hilarious and very apropos homework questions and answers. Bloch's deceptively simple black-line cartoons are placed on long, narrow pages with lots of white space with bright greens and pinks bleeding beyond the lines. They evoke a mid-20th-century visual sensibility that honors Crictor, that other famous pet green snake, while perfectly complementing the text. Clever, laugh-out-loud fun. (Picture book. 3-8)

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

 Booklist starred (September 1, 2013 (Vol. 110, No. 1))

Preschool-Grade 2. Opening endpapers of orderly gray bricks introduce a community of proper Victorian animals getting about their business with smileless politesse. But Mr. Tiger, his bright-orange face a sore thumb among the elephant grays and mule-deer browns, dreams of freedom. First, he drops to all fours. His neighbors are nonplussed. Then, he rampages and roars. His neighbors are frightened. Finally, he gets naked. The village members suggest he head into the wilderness, which he thinks is a “magnificent idea.” He loves the wilderness, with all its wildness, but, in time, he misses the city and his friends. He returns only to discover that things have loosened to a happy medium. He dons some aloha attire, and all is right with the world. Closing endpapers of haphazard greenery celebrate the welcome change. Brown highlights the differences between municipal propriety and savage abandon with color and composition. The city is all upright, sepia, rectilinear precision; the wild, sweeping vistas of lush, verdant paradise, and their final amalgam form a nice balance. With its skewed humor and untamed spirit, this joyous exploration of quasi-reverse anthropomorphism will delight listeners again and again.

Last-But-Not-Least Lola Going Green

School Library Journal (December 1, 2013)

Gr 2-4-In school, when your surname begins with "Z," it means being last at everything. Last to be called on. Last to go to lunch. Last to leave at the end of the day. But Lola Zuckerman's desire to go to the head of her class is the focus of this winning, environmentally themed book. Competing to win the coveted "green" vest by coming up with the best recycling project, the second grader anxiously watches as her classmates nab all the best ideas. The vest was previously won by her older brother, so Lola really feels the pressure. She is also competing against her former best friend, Amanda. The characters are fully developed, each with their own delightful quirks. For example, her teacher, Mrs. Denedebetti, loving refers to her students in candy terms such as "Jujubes" and "Gummy Bears." However, when they cause a food fight in the cafeteria, they're just "class." Children will root for Lola as she tries to mend fences, save the planet, and come out on top. The lessons of recycling are creatively explored, showing readers big and small ways to help our planet. Those who have enjoyed "Clementine" will welcome this contemporary tale as it tackles family, competition, friendship, and the environment. The pencil drawings are energetic, and the list of Lola's classmates gives a real sense of what the child is up against. A great choice for early chapter-book readers.-Sada Mozer, Los Angeles Public Library (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe

Kirkus Reviews starred (September 1, 2013)

Spike, an abandoned "Ugliest Dog in the Universe"--contest winner, finds love and a new home in this heartwarming tale about beauty--and its many permutations. Verbally abused and cast away, Spike's resilience and optimism remain--largely due to Joe, the kind boy from next door. First-person narration makes the dog all the more endearing: "If you could see inside my heart, you'd say...beautiful." Joe's mom, while sympathetic, says they can't afford a dog, so Spike works hard to charm her. With an earnest sincerity, he explains his efforts to become more appealing. It's only when Spike spoils a catnapping scheme and Joe is paid for a published drawing of Spike that the dog and boy are finally united. Frasier's exceptional artwork and text will have readers rooting for the lovable Spike. Using found materials, she creates ingenious collages that act as metaphors, revealing beauty in what once appeared useless and worn-out. Blue jeans tell Spike's story, hard-working and durable; they also connect him to Joe and his mom, who both wear the fabric. Evangeline, the award-winning cat, is surrounded by silk and lace. Seamlessly integrated design enhances both emotional and comedic beats, as the author reveals beauty in its myriad forms. Brilliant. (Picture book. 4-8)



 Booklist starred (September 1, 2013 (Vol. 110, No. 1))

Grades 4-6. When a ship sinks, a one-year-old baby is found floating in a cello case in the English Channel, wrapped in the score of a symphony. She is saved by one of the ­passengers, a gangly young scholar named Charles Maxwell. Charles decides to keep her. This will cause problems because a single man having a young girl as his ward is frowned upon in 1890s London. Until then, Sophie has a wonderful life living in his drafty house, being taught all manner of interesting things by Charles, and wearing whatever she likes, especially trousers. Yet, one thing bothers Sophie very much: she is sure her mother is still alive. When Sophie is 12, the authorities order her to an orphanage. Instead, Sophie and Charles flee to Paris, where the cello case was made—the first clue to her origins. What follows is a glorious adventure set mostly on the rooftops of Paris. Sophie meets Matteo, who lives on Parisian roofs, and his pals, street kids who help her in her quest. The story is magic, though not in the usual sense. Rundell’s writing is suffused with sparkling images—Sophie’s hair is the color of lightning—and she writes with a perfect mix of dreaminess and humor. The characters shine, too: Charles, the perfect guardian, who uses toast as a bookmark; Matteo, miserable and marvelous by turns; and the inimitable, unsinkable (literally) Sophie, who doesn’t give up. Here’s a heartwarming charmer.

Cooper & Packrat: Mystery on Pine Lake

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2013)

Packed with intrigue and sweet humor, this mystery with a conservation twist will grab young readers. Twelve-year-old Cooper and his little sister, Molly, live at their family's business, a campground on Pine Lake in Maine. Cooper loves canoeing, camping and, perhaps most of all, the lake's loons--and he is determined to protect this year's hatchlings. Living at the campground has a downside, though: It seems that his chores never stop, and his parents are so preoccupied with the business, there's no family time. He's also supposed to be nice to all the campers--and that includes the camp bully, Roy. But enter ally Packrat, an upbeat kid and new fast friend. Disaster strikes when Cooper and Packrat discover someone has dammed up the lake, causing the water to rise and destroying the loons' eggs. Who is the culprit? Roy? Or Mr. Bakeman, a perpetually grumpy neighbor who openly professes his hatred of the loons? Hope is restored when Cooper and Packrat learn the loons may lay a second set of eggs, and they quickly hatch a plan to prevent another disaster. Wight has penned a winning cast of characters, dialogue that sparkles and a plot that flies. DiRocco's detailed and humorous black-and-white illustrations elevate the book's charm even higher. A story that should turn even the most finicky readers into happy campers.(Mystery. 8-12)

Battle Bunny

 Booklist starred (October 1, 2013 (Vol. 110, No. 3))

Grades K-5. This deliciously subversive piece of metafiction skewers—with a sharp wit and a sharper pencil—the earnest, purposeful literature so popular in the middle of the last century. The fun begins with a facsimile of something akin to an antique Little Golden Book, Birthday Bunny, complete with worn cover, yellowed pages, and wholesome message. But the book has been “improved” in story and pictures by a child named Alex wielding his trusty no. 2. The cover, retitled Battle Bunny, now features rockets, planes, bombs, and a general promise of mayhem. And Alex keeps that promise, transforming the insipid story of a sad bunny being cheered by his friends on his birthday into a raucous adventure wherein an evil bunny unleashes a tornado of destruction on the unsuspecting forest until the president is forced to call in one Agent Alex to save the day. Alex’s “edits,” including a complete reworking of the text and plenty of pictorial embellishments, are soaked in testosterone. The animals of the forest become luchadores and ninja warriors; Air Force One and a few presidents (Obama and Lincoln) make appearances; and just about everything explodes. In the end, Alex is victorious, Battle Bunny is vanquished, and the world is safe. At least until Alex and his pencil ride again . . .

Ant and Honey Bee: A Pair of Friends in Winter

Winter's arrival leaves sleepy Honey Bee in no mood to entertain her still-antsy friend. Having quickly run through all the possibilities for solitary activities, Ant ignores her bigger buddy's "bee-mail" brushoff and heads out into the "rainy and complain-y" weather to pay a call. Grumpy reception notwithstanding ("Honey Bee sure had her stinger out today"), Ant's relentless persistence ultimately pays off in a cooperatively assembled "peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich"--actually a bowl of milk with some chips in it--enhanced, "Stone Soup" style, with raisins, maple syrup, goldfish crackers, gummy worms, squeeze cheese, ketchup and even stored-away honey. "It's very antsome," admits Honey Bee. And the towering result makes a perfect final snack before cuddling down on a shared couch for a long winter's nap. McDonald's three-chapter tale offers an entertaining mix of wordplay and amusing back-and-forth conversation--not to mention delicious kitchen antics and, from Karas, cartoon illustrations rich in both visual gags ("Napping House" reads the sign outside Old Man Spider's home) and small but clear cues to the mutual regard lurking under the (four-limbed, but never mind) insect friends' moods. Sure to give recent Henry & Mudge grads a happy buzz. (Early reader. 6-8)

Friday, November 8, 2013

That's A Possibility! A Book About What Might Happen

School Library Journal (August 1, 2013)

K-Gr 4-As he did in Great Estimations (Holt, 2006), Goldstone takes a mathematical concept and makes it easily understandable for children and great fun as well. Using a question/answer format, he explains possibility, impossibility, probability, improbability, and certainty. Each concept is accompanied by photographs that are not only sharp and clear, but that also employ colors that make the pictures really pop. Varying sizes and fonts add interest, and the subjects that Goldstone has chosen to illustrate the concepts have a great deal of child appeal. The pages featuring combinations have adorable Squidgy the Bear dressed in the 100 outfits made possible by his possessing 10 shirts and 10 pairs of pants. It's "bearly possible" to predict which outfit he will wear because of the 1 in 100 odds. This book will be a boon to teachers working with these concepts, and it will attract browsers as well. A first purchase.-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


The Surprise Attack of Jabba The Puppett

 Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2013)

Dark times have descended on McQuarrie Middle School, and a rebel alliance is born.... The seventh-graders of MMS have little time to celebrate Dwight and Origami Yoda's return from Tippett Academy before Principal Rabbski holds a special assembly to announce that since the school's standardized test scores were so low, new classes for all students will begin immediately. FunTime classes consist of watching videos starring Professor FunTime and his singing calculator, Gizmo--with extra worksheets! What's worse: FunTime classes take the place of electives such as art, chorus and band. The Origami Rebel Alliance hatches a plan to fail the test, sinking the school's chance of meeting state standards, unless Principal Rabbski ends FunTime and returns electives to the curriculum. But Emperor Palpatine--as the kids think of Rabbski--won't fall that easily! Tommy's case file grows in Angleberger's fourth doodle-filled paean to individuality, friendship and all things Star Wars. This book may not win any fans among school administrators, but those who have delighted in Tommy and his friends' previous case files will be pleased. It's not a great place to begin reading the series--start with the first--and readers be warned: This documents a battle, not the whole war, and ends with the words "To be continued" ("Way yes!" says Origami Yoda). Origami instructions are included (of course), and it's otherwise chock-full of customarily quirky fun. (Graphic hybrid fiction. 8-12)

Odd Weird @ Little

 Kirkus Reviews starred (October 15, 2013)

At last: a humorous, useful and pedantry-free book about bullying! Woodrow and his classmates are surprised at the old-fashioned clothing and the tiny, delicate appearance of Toulouse, a newly arrived student from Canada. Is this Woodrow's opportunity to pass his ownvictim status to someone else? Woodrow openly admits his acknowledged dorkiness, as in his fondness for "duck tape," his hesitant speech patterns and that time he got chopsticks stuck in his throat pretending to be a badger. His first-person account of befriending someone even weirder than himself divulges such truths as school-playground hierarchies, adults' proficiency or lack thereof at handling bullying behaviors, and "kid rules" that enable bullies. Woodrow risks regaining his place as top victim as he decides to befriend and protect Toulouse, who has drawn unwanted attention to himself with such anomalies as his bowler hats and his furry vomit. While enjoying every minute of Woodrow's slow discovery that Toulouse is actually an owl--and the even more amazing fact that no one else reaches that conclusion--readers also learn about the psychology behind bullying and about self-empowerment. The rhythm of the prose is perfect for independent readers and for reading aloud; clever art, music and literature references add to the fun. Jennings does not skip a beat as he builds realistic relationships and problem-solving around an outrageously funny premise. (Fiction. 8-12)

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde Spelling Trouble

Kirkus Reviews starred (September 1, 2013)

A fledgling witch receives necessary guidance from a talking cat in this utterly adorable page-turner. Plucky, pigtailed and bespectacled Salem Hyde just wants a friend. After a misguided attempt to use her magic lands her in the principal's office, Salem's family decides she needs an animal companion. One well-placed call later, she meets knowledgeable and talkative feline Percival J. Whamsford III, otherwise known as Whammy. Whammy isn't just a chatty kitty; he is a Magical Animal Companion and will help Salem learn how to use her magic properly. However, the two get off to a rocky start (Salem had wanted a unicorn, not a cat), despite Whammy's best efforts. When Salem casts a big blunder of a spell at her school's spelling bee, Whammy arrives in the nick of time to help her and prove his friendship. Cammuso's jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, with one of the most memorable bits borrowed from Abbott and Costello's iconic "Who's on First" routine. Simply drawn, wide-eyed characters populate Cammuso's genial tale, lending it a Sunday-morning-comics feel and a gentle nostalgia that conjures visions of Calvin and Hobbes meeting a young Samantha Stephens. A delightful buddy story and an auspicious series opener; be sure to make room on shelves for Salem and Whammy. (Graphic fantasy. 7-10)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


 Booklist (October 15, 2013 (Vol. 110, No. 4))

Grades K-3. Young Eric just isn’t appreciated by the people of his medieval village. In response to his minor (if constant) foibles, they call him “twit” and “dummy” and “dope.” It all gets to be a bit much, and one day Eric wanders away from town. That is when the screaming starts: “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! A HUGE MONSTER HAS COME DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAINS!” Dozens of villagers stream past, shouting that it would take a “twit” to think he could fight that monster—indeed, a “dummy” and a “dope.” Hearing this, Eric perks up, for he possesses just those qualities! Wormell’s story, with its omniscient narrator, cruel villagers, and clever turnaround by the apparent fool, has the feel of a classic folktale. When Eric stands up bravely to the towering, hairy beast—illustrated so that you have to turn the book on its end to appreciate the vertical arrangement—he is rewarded by an admission that the monster, too, feels like a twit. A strong addition to the you-can-be-a-hero-too canon.

Xander's Panda Party

School Library Journal (August 1, 2013)

PreS-Gr 1-In this charming story that celebrates friendship and inclusion, Xander wants to throw a party, but since he's the zoo's only panda, he invites all of the bears. Then Koala tells him that she's a marsupial, not a bear. After much thoughtful bamboo-nibbling, Xander opens his party to all mammals. But Rhino won't come without his bird, and then the reptiles request an invitation, and the little panda doesn't know what to do. A new friend pitches in, and the party goes "from grand to even grander" as the whole zoo is invited. As a last surprise, a new panda, Zhu Zi, arrives to complete the celebration, "What a party! What a ball! Lots of new friends, tall and small!" The ink and watercolor illustrations add dashes of personality to the animals-the rhino scowls as his bird cheerfully waves from atop his horn-and touches of humor, as when Xander blends in with a crowd of penguins. The cartoonlike animals have wonderfully expressive faces, so even the wordless pages convey the panda's feelings. The upbeat, mostly rhyming text provides a surprising amount of information about animal families and species without tripping up the pace. The author's note gives information that expands on facts mentioned in the book, like the symbiotic relationship between the oxpecker and the rhino. Perfect for young animal lovers and a great read-aloud for storytime.-Marian McLeod, Darien Library, CT (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Musk Ox Counts

 School Library Journal (July 1, 2013)

K-Gr 4-In a genuinely funny companion to A Is for Musk Ox (Roaring Brook, 2012), zebra and musk ox are arguing about how to compose a counting, er, "addition" book. Although the first spread reads "1 musk ox," the beast is nowhere to be seen; his shadow appears on the second spread, along with a worried zebra. It turns out that one is a lonely number, and musk ox would rather be partying with the two (gorgeous) yaks. Displaying his penchant for creative problem solving, the fast talker shows his frustrated coauthor that the "2 yaks" page could still work if the creatures become part of an equation that includes 1 musk ox. He continues to defend his position while reclining on a shag rug, (bubble) pipe in grinning mouth: "Did you see those lovely ladies? They'd be lonely without me." So it goes, with a delightfully unpredictable plot, inventiveness vs. anal-retentiveness, and tricks that will appeal to juvenile and adult sensibilities. Cabatingan's witty repartee leaves plenty of room for Myers to interpret and enhance the narrative with his own ideas, making this a book in which children will continue to discover surprises during subsequent readings. The artist's oil compositions contrast rich texture in the figures and foregrounds with a more delicate blending of colors in the backgrounds; the result is a pleasing visual experience and a wonderful marriage of numeracy and aesthetics. Will this duo return to wreak havoc with colors, shapes, opposites? One can only hope.-Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Tea Party Rules

Booklist starred (October 15, 2013 (Vol. 110, No. 4))

Preschool-Grade 3. Ooh, how frustrating. A young bear cub stumbles upon a little girl’s tea party and really, really just wants a cookie, but tea party rules get in the way. The cub, who, unbeknownst to the girl, has knocked her stuffed bear off a chair and taken his identity, gets carted away as soon as the girl peers closely at him. “You’re too grubby,” she says. Cub does not want a bath. However, he is groomed and then put in a dress and bonnet (“Tea Party Rule: you must be neat”). Soon Cub is seated at the table, and it’s finally cookie time, but the rule to “eat daintily” is out the window. (He has his dignity, after all.) The tables are turned, perfectly so, when the little girl changes the game, and therefore the rules. Dyckman (Boy and Bot, 2012) and Campbell (Flora and Ulysses, 2013) are a winning pair, using their comedic chops to pace the story beautifully. Seeing Cub masquerading as stuffed, with feet sticking stiffly out and eyeballs wide, is laugh-out-loud funny. Campbell’s soft sepia-marker-and-colored-pencil illustrations appear on creamy backgrounds, alternating humorous spots and detailed full-page spreads; the depictions of an unhappy bear ensure little ones are in on the joke. This battle of wills between two charmers hits just the right note.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Leo Geo and the Cosmic Crisis

 Kirkus Reviews starred (September 15, 2013)

Starting at opposite ends of this follow-up to Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth (2012), the intrepid explorer and his space-based scientist brother Matt Data trace looping paths through crowded spacescapes toward each other. Before they meet in the middle, both encounter black holes, white holes, wormholes, asteroids, space pirates and some distinctly more unusual "space sights." Hidden among improbably thick floating clouds of aliens and miscellaneous detritus are such items as "someone taking candy from a baby," "a double-ended feline ferocity" and "some cute cookie thieves"--all detailed on preliminary lists inside the covers. Readers who carefully trace the science-minded sibs' circuitous pathways will be rewarded with a nonstop barrage of chases, battles, goofy sight gags and silly details. They'll also enjoy numerous meaty minilectures on topics astronomical, from how multistage rockets work and types of asteroids and stars to algebraic formulas for computing gravitational attraction and escape velocity. "I thought we were goners for sure," proclaims Leo as he and Matt exchange a high-five at the volume's center point. "But luckily I had good, sound science on my side!" Don't leave home without it. (Graphic fiction/nonfiction. 9-11)


 School Library Journal (October 1, 2013)

PreS-Gr 2-The cut-and-paste, handmade look and feel of this picture book underscores its thematic ode to creative problem solving. Little T is about to embark on a much-anticipated trip to the zoo with her family when she freezes up with fear. Her parents call time-out and undertake a laugh-out-loud, over-the-top attempt to pinpoint exactly which animal she seems to be afraid of. Utilizing household objects, recyclables, clothing, and everyday art materials, Mom, Dad, and sister construct a madcap, A-to-Z range of costumes to determine which creature could possibly be thwarting T's desire to go to the zoo. "Does it jump in the road?" asks Mom, holding V-shaped tongs to her head simulating deer's antlers; "Does it live in the tropics?" asks Dad, crawling around the floor in an iguana costume constructed with cardboard tubes and paper bags. And so on until nightfall, when T declares her fears banished and now wants to go to the zoo. (Who wouldn't, after all those entertaining theatrics?) But when they arrive the next day, an encounter with a certain zoo employee sends T's sister into a panic, an ironic twist to T's resolution of her own fears. The charming, detailed watercolor and ink illustrations really tell the story, and children will relish poring over them to guess the animal costumes and identify their construction materials. Pair this with titles such as Antoinette Portis's Not a Box (2006) and Not a Stick (2007, both HarperCollins) to jump-start kids' own creative juices.-Kathleen Finn, St. Francis Xavier School, Winooski, VT (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

How the Meteorite Got to the Museum

 Kirkus Reviews starred (September 15, 2013)

Hartland follows up earlier titles about museum acquisitions of an ancient Egyptian sphinx and remains of a dinosaur with a lively new one based on the travels of the Peekskill meteorite to the American Museum of Natural History With a catchy, cumulative "House That Jack Built"--like refrain, a science teacher chronicles for her students the travels of a meteoroid from outer space to the atmosphere over the United States, across several states, into a parked car in Peekskill, N.Y., and on to the museum. Text introducing the various role-players is set on double-page spreads of childlike paintings full of interesting details. The meteor zips across the sky past a barking dog in Kentucky, sports fans with cameras in Pennsylvania and on down through a teenager's parked car, where various officials investigate. Finally, there are the museum employees who identify, acquire, explain and display it. Each participant's title is written in capital letters and given a recognizable typeface and color. The verbs in the refrain vary intriguingly: The dog barks, yelps, woofs, howls, ruffs, arfs, yips and yaps. The backmatter includes more about the history of this particular meteorite and meteorites in general. This lighthearted, behind-the-scenes look at museum work does double duty as a much-needed introduction to meteorites: most children's closest possible connection to outer space.(Informational picture book. 6-10)

Henry's Hand

Booklist (October 1, 2013 (Vol. 110, No. 3))

Preschool-Grade 1. So this is strange. Henry, a fellow who looks like a cross between Frankenstein and Al Capone, keeps losing pieces of himself. An eye rolls under the couch; a leg disappears. But Henry’s right hand, also independent, is a worker, fetching the newspaper or changing the TV channel. Finally, though, Hand has had enough and hitches a ride into the city; Henry is left to fend for himself. The city has mean streets, but Hand’s fortune changes when he pulls a man from a car’s path and becomes a hero. Fame and wealth follow, but life in a house of servants seems a bit useless. Meanwhile, Henry has learned to take care of himself, but he is lonely. A letter from Henry brings Hand home with a new friend for their new life. The writing is conventional, but the story has a good message about friendship. It’s MacDonald’s wonderful retro-style artwork, however, that will rightfully get all the attention. It’s the sort that draws both children and adults, who will be charmed by the offbeat protagonists. Beautifully designed, too, this will be fun to read.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pomelo's Opposites

School Library Journal (September 1, 2013)

K-Gr 3-Filled with whimsy, surprise, and pure fun, this French import extends the idea of opposites far beyond the basics. More than 100 pages are packed neatly into the small, square-shaped frame, with contrasting words and images facing on each spread. Many, but not all, feature Pomelo, a big-eyed, long-trunked pink elephant demonstrating each example. The book begins with fairly standard word pairs, but the art is anything but predictable. For example, "morning/evening" features identical scenes with the skies reversed. Further page turns lead to even more imaginative interpretations. The words stray from direct opposites in playful ways, such as "something"/"whatever" and "handsome"/"weird." The cartoon drawings are often funny: one shows a red piece of food going "in" the elephant's mouth, then coming out his opposite end, having turned brown after digestion. Some are thought-provoking: a flower losing its petals represents "fleeting," then the same flower is captured in a painting for "permanent." When the word pairs require an extra bit of stretching to fit as opposites, such as "on snailback"/"by turtle," it's in keeping with the creative, carefree tone that permeates the book. Rich vocabulary ("stalagmite," "concave," and "gastropod," for example) and deceptively subtle visual interpretations make this a great choice for parent-child sharing and discussion, but solo children will have no problem immersing themselves in the clever, playful, and deftly imagined illustrations.-Steven Engelfried, Wilsonville Public Library, OR (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

A Big Guy Took My Ball!

 Booklist (May 1, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 17))

Preschool-Grade 2. It’s possible that Willems’ flagship Elephant & Piggie series might go on forever, and it’s also possible that everyone would be okay with that. In this pleasing go-round, Piggie is aflutter after a traumatic incident. After Piggie found a “big ball,” a “big guy came” (cue teary-eyed stammering) “and—and—and—HE TOOK MY BALL!” This doesn’t sit right with Gerald, who is soon shaking his gray fist in indignance. He stomps off to confront the thief, only to find that, well, “He is very BIG.” (Picture the word BIG taking up half the page.) It is a blue whale that towers over our dynamic duo—pretty terrifying stuff until the whale gives readers a lesson on size: it’s all relative. If we’re quibbling, there’s some standing in place going on here as Gerald hems and haws over not getting back the big ball (or “little ball” as its known to the whale). But, as always, Willems’ staging of his characters and text across the white background is a master class in economy. Further classes forthcoming? Count on it. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Is it time yet to add a second Elephant & Piggie shelf in your library?

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy

Publishers Weekly (July 9, 2012)

Loftin debuts with a smart, fresh, and thoroughly modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Nothing is going right for 11-year-old Lorelei Robinson. Her mother's death has torn her family apart, her father has married a woman who doesn't like kids, and her school just burned down. Good thing a shiny new school popped up over the weekend, and it's awesome: there are all-you-can-eat meals, endless bowls of candy on the desks, a playground to die for-and students only attend classes when they want. Lorelei's new friend Andrew is sure there's something suspicious about the way the students can't stop eating (his own weight issues have taught him food awareness), and Lorelei soon comes to agree. The darkness that Loftin layers over her story makes this a mesmerizing read, though some grisly details may be too much for sensitive readers. By incorporating real problems that children face-the death of a parent, peer pressure, bullying, obesity, and learning disabilities-Loftin anchors her characters and creates a fantasy that feels simultaneously classic and new. Ages 8-12. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary and Media. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How To

 Kirkus Reviews starred (April 15, 2013)

Smart, clean design and a text built around unpunctuated phrases offer room to pause, ponder and discuss in this book of quiet joy. Ample white space foregrounds a multicultural cast, whose patterned clothing, props and minimal, but visually exciting, settings take center stage. In the opening spread, "how to go fast," readers consider options as eight youngsters whoosh by, one riding a scooter, another navigating stilts, a third sporting butterfly wings. The parade's leader is nearly off the page. "How to see the wind" prompts conversation about the kites, grass and hair shown at various angles--and the metaphysical question itself. Morstad explores topics of interest to children, from "staying close" (two girls sharing one braid) to disappearing--a scene in which meaning comes first from the curtained image; the text is nearly invisible. She intersperses colorful backgrounds, as well as single- and double-spread compositions for an overall effect that elicits anticipation at every turn. As in this Canadian's illustrations for the work of other authors (Caroline Woodward's Singing Away the Dark, 2010; Sara O'Leary's When I Was Small, 2012), the characters' delicate features exhibit an absorption in their activities that simultaneously signals the seriousness and satisfaction of concentration. The "be happy" conclusion portrays unself-conscious movement--including that initial runner, leaving the book. In these inventive scenarios, children will recognize themselves and find new ways to be. (Picture book. 2-6)

Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace

Horn Book (July/August, 2013)

Eleven-year-old Elvis Ruby is "the most famous [musician] in the world." Poised to win the American Idol-like TweenStar reality TV competition, he instead freezes onstage during a performance. His dad whisks him away to tiny Wares Grove, New Jersey, in order to regroup and escape the paparazzi. Elvis (going incognito as "Aaron") tries to keep a low profile while helping out at the Pancake Palace, a flapjacks-only restaurant run by family friend Aunt Emily and her sassy would-be librarian daughter Millicent. His secret is soon uncovered by misfit Cecilia, a local girl his own age who enlists his help. When Cecilia was born in the Pinelands woods, her parents mysteriously heard music; ever since, the tone-deaf girl has been trying, unsuccessfully, to coax the music out of the trees. With Aaron's accompaniment, Cecilia's wish is fulfilled -- only not in the way either of them expects. Interspersed chapters about the Pinelands and Jersey Devil myths echo the story's themes -- identity, alienation, community, creative expression. The tall-tale element (including occasional direct-address narration) adds texture and depth to this story about two kids: an extraordinarily talented one coping with the push and pull of fame, and a seemingly unremarkable one finding her voice. elissa gershowitz


Crankee Doodle

 Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2013)

Sure he went to town...but did he want to go to town? Crankee Doodle is bored. His pony suggests going to town, but Crankee says he hates going to town. "There are too many people in town. They all run around in a hurry and ring bells and eat pies, and then they yell at each other to stop running around, ringing bells, and eating pies." Pony suggests shopping. Crankee hates shopping; he has enough stuff. Pony suggests a feather for Crankee's hat. That doesn't go over well either. Pony says Crankee could call it macaroni (that means fancy). Crankee thinks lasagna is much more fancy, but he doesn't want to call his hat macaroni or lasagna or go to town or shop. Pony offers Crankee a ride, but Crankee thinks Pony smells. Poor Pony! Will Crankee apologize? Will they get to town? Will readers ever view "Yankee Doodle" the same way again? Best-seller Angleberger of Origami Yoda fame takes on picture books, treating a younger audience to his dry and zany wit. Readers and storytime audiences will guffaw at his twist on the traditional song. Bell's gauche, heavy-outlined illustrations are comic-book panels, some spreading over two pages as Crankee Doodle and Pony converse in speech bubbles (and Crankee's jeremiads fill the page). A historical hoot full of goofy, eye-rolling goodness. (Picture book. 4-9)

The Invisible Boy

School Library Journal (September 1, 2013)

K-Gr 2-Brian feels invisible. His teacher hardly notices him, the other kids never invite him to play, and he eats lunch alone. But he loves to draw, so at recess, he creates comics about greedy pirates, battling space aliens, and superheroes with the power to make friends everywhere. One day, a new boy, Justin, joins the class. The other children make fun of him for eating Bulgogi, a Korean dish, but Brian slips him a friendly note. When it is time to find partners for a class project, Justin asks Brian to join him and another boy. Brian's artistic talents come in handy, and finally he is no longer invisible. This is a simple yet heartfelt story about a boy who has been excluded for no apparent reason but finds a way to cope and eventually gains acceptance. Barton's scribbly illustrations look like something Brian may have made. Pencil sketches painted digitally are set against lots of white space, and sometimes atop a background of Brian's drawings on lined notebook paper. At the start of this picture book, Brian is shown in shades of gray while the rest of the world is in color, a visual reminder of his isolation. Color starts to creep in as he is noticed by Justin. Once he becomes part of the group, he is revealed in full color. The thought-provoking story includes questions for discussion and suggested reading lists for adults and children in the back matter. Pair this highly recommended book with Jacqueline Woodson's Each Kindness (Penguin, 2012) for units on friendship or feelings.-Martha Simpson, Stratford Library Association, CT (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Bean Dog and Nugget: The Ball

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2013)

Bean Dog and Nugget are ready for action! Bean Dog, a pink bean, or perhaps a hot dog, with stick arms and plaid shorts, has a new ball. It's shiny and perfect and special to him. He's having the best day playing with his ball when he sees Nugget, a pink circle with stick arms, a bow and a skirt. She thinks his ball is great, but he won't let her play with it. She sets off whistling, and he thinks better of his selfishness, tossing it and telling her to think fast. The ball bounces off her roundness and vanishes...into the spooky bushes. How can they get Bean Dog's ball back? Throw snowballs at it? Donuts? Monkeys? Muffins? No, their shoes! Now their shoes are stuck too. This calls for some deep thinking and a plan: Superdog and Ninja Nugget attack the bushes with garden implements. They get their stuff back: Yeah! After a game and some cake, it really is the best day! Harper kicks off another graphic-novel series for the early-reader audience with a tale happily devoid of the potty humor and didacticism that mark her Wedgieman titles. The simplicity of the illustrations and the text will draw in young readers, who will identify with the enthusiasm and silliness of these two-color, stick-and-bean characters. Amiable goofiness to the nth degree--a winner. (Graphic early reader. 5-7)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Open This Little Book

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2013)

You really can't judge a book by its cover! Follow the instructions of the title and find...another, smaller cover, in purple, with a frog and a rabbit both engrossed in their reading. Open that cover, and there's a red one (with black dots) about a ladybug, then a green one about a frog, an orange one about a rabbit, a yellow (with honeycombs) about a bear, each progressively smaller, and finally, atiny blue one, which really contains a story. It'sabout a giant, the ladybug, the rabbit, the frog and the bear, dedicated readers all, who form a friendship based on their love of reading. Meantime, the outer edges of the books that were opened on the way form a pretty, square rainbow. (Each cover features a different typeface and background design.) Getting to the end of the story means passing back through all the previous page sizes and colors. On the final red page, the ladybug closes her book, and then "[y]ou close this little red book...."But of course, then readers are urged to "open another!" And the illustration on the real last page features a tall bookcase with all the animals around it reading, as well as the giant's hand, other tiny creatures and a couple of engrossed children. The sleek text and endlessly inventive design register strongly by showing rather than just telling. A delightful and timelyhomage to reading and, more, to books themselves. (Picture book. 3-8)


Strega Nona Does It Again

Publishers Weekly (August 26, 2013)

When Strega Nona agrees to host the daughter of a cousin, she doesn't know what she's in for. Angelina shows up with mountains of luggage, conscripts Bambolona and Big Anthony into service as a maid and footman, and has both of them help her construct a shrine to her narcissistic love, Hugo. Strega Nona's quick thinking and wisdom call to mind another storied problem-solver from the world of children's literature-Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle-and her magic-tinged solution brings together two young people who, as she says, "deserve each other," for better or worse. A wryly funny story of love and entitlement, with all the homey charm that dePaola's fans expect and love. Ages 5-8. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


See What a Seal Can Do

 School Library Journal (September 1, 2013)

K-Gr 2-A curious gray seal peers out from the cover, seeming to invite readers into its underwater world. Once inside, the book begins and ends with seals napping on the rocks. This sedentary behavior, the only one visible to earth-bound humans, gives these sea mammals a "lazy" reputation. In fact, as the illustrations go on to show, the seal is anything but. Once below the ocean's surface, the creature's streamlined body and adaptive features (which are described and explained) make it a master predator. The poetic text is full of alliteration, onomatopoeia, and vocabulary that will delight readers. ("A flump is a flop and a jump both together.") Sentences in smaller type act as captions and add further detail, as do the illustrations on the endpapers and the information on the verso of the title page. The beautifully colored, full-spread illustrations portray the seal's transformation from awkward land dweller to sinuous and powerful denizen of the deep. The below-water scenes masterfully evoke the murky ocean habitat and the singular seal's steep descent to the bottom. From the irresistible cover to the closing "super-swimming underwater wonder," the book will encourage readers to dive right in and see what a seal can do.-Carol S. Surges, formerly at Longfellow Middle School, Wauwatosa, WI (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The Year of Billy Miller

Booklist (July 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 21))

Grades 3-7. Billy Miller is starting second grade, and though his teacher, Mrs. Silver, tells the class it is the Year of the Rabbit, Billy’s father tells him it will be the Year of Billy Miller. Billy isn’t sure. He’s even more worried when he gets off on the wrong foot his first day, but as the months go on, Billy begins to shine. There are some wonderful moments here: when Billy brings his teacher silver items—coins, a paper clip, a little rabbit—to show her he’s a nice boy; when he agonizes over how to tell his father that Papa is a babyish name; and a triumphant ending when poetry and self-confidence intertwine. But the school year also seems rushed, and some intriguing characters, like the annoying Emma, are barely touched. Harkening back to writers of an earlier era, like Eleanor Estes, Henkes never compromises his language. Words like replicated, diligently, and frustrated appear—and that’s on just one page. Since this is so age specific, older readers might pass it by. That would be too bad, because this is a story with a lot of heart and sweet insights into growing up. Illustrations unseen. High-Demand Backstory: There’s no more versatile producer of children’s books working today than Henkes. Libraries, with great justification, are always interested in what he’s up to now.


Booklist starred (July 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 21))

Grades K-3. Floca follows up the acclaimed Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (2009) with this ebullient, breathtaking look at a family’s 1869 journey from Omaha to Sacramento via the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad. The unnamed family is a launching point for Floca’s irrepressible exploration into, well, everything about early rail travel, from crew responsibilities and machinery specifics to the sensory thrills of a bridge rumbling beneath and the wind blasting into your face. The substantial text is delivered in nonrhyming stanzas as enlightening as they are poetic: the “smoke and cinders, / ash and sweat” of the coal engine and the Great Plains stretching out “empty as an ocean.” Blasting through these artful compositions are the bellows of the conductor (“FULL STEAM AHEAD”) and the scream of the train whistle, so loud that it bleeds off the page: “WHOOOOOOO!” Font styles swap restlessly to best embody each noise (see the blunt, bold “SPIT” versus the ornate, ballooning “HUFF HUFF HUFF”). Just as heart pounding are Floca’s bold, detailed watercolors, which swap massive close-ups of barreling locomotives with sweeping bird’s-eye views that show how even these metal giants were dwarfed by nature. It’s impossible to turn a page without learning something, but it’s these multiple wow moments that will knock readers from their chairs. Fantastic opening and closing notes make this the book for young train enthusiasts.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Show Must Go On!

Booklist (August 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 22))

Grades 3-5. Kate Klise, author of the wildly punny 43 Old Cemetery Road and Regarding series, turns to a slightly younger audience in this amusing series opener. After years of developing his traveling circus into one of the best shows in the world, old and tired Sir Sidney decides he needs some help. He hires Barnabas Brambles for a one-week trial run, but it’s clear that the smarmy certified lion tamer is more concerned with making money than respecting the performers and talking circus animals. When Brambles tries to add more cities to their tour, sell off some of the older animals, and allow the directionless Famous Flying Banana Brothers to navigate the circus train, plenty of high jinks ensue, including getting stuck atop the Saint Louis Arch. Playful black-and-white illustrations and creative language—in the form of sight gags, coined words, speech bubbles, letters, and phone texts—keep the story lively. Math teachers will especially appreciate Brambles’ profit calculations throughout. A big-top introduction to the author’s quirky humor.

Ling & Ting Share a Birthday

 School Library Journal (August 1, 2013)

K-Gr 2-Ling and Ting are back, applying their problem-solving skills and thinking exactly like real six-year-olds. The table of contents cleverly displays the titles of the six stories on layers of a luscious, pink cake. A single theme links the chapters, with such familiar birthday topics as gifts, baking, and wishes. When a gift of of new shoes arrives, each girl wears one from the red pair and one from the green so that they are dressed alike. One successful birthday cake and one burnt cake-no problem. Ling cuts hers in half to share with her twin. And when one of Ling's candles remains lit, Ting blows out hers and wishes that her sister will have a wish, too. The gouache rendering of the twins has a nostalgic charm, and Lin creates an innocent world in which children shop, bake, and move about town without adult intervention. Even though this is a short and simple early chapter book, the characters are fully developed and distinct, and children should be encouraged to infer the protagonists' traits. An excellent stand-alone purchase or addition for libraries already familiar with these endearing sisters.-Gloria Koster, West School, New Canaan, CT (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The Big Wet Balloon

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2013)

There are so many things to do when it rains! Hooray! It's Saturday. But wait--it's raining. What are two sisters to do? Older sibling Matilda is absolutely full of ideas and ready to lead younger Clemmie on a grand adventure. What will they do first? It all begins with rain boots and entails a very special red balloon, a wink to the classic book and film. Celebrated Argentine cartoonist Liniers offers a warm visual welcome to early readers in this graphic novel; lively watercolors in comic format provide plenty of memorable images and details to examine and savor. The gentle humor and mild suspense will quickly draw readers in, while brief sentences and appropriately challenging vocabulary, flawlessly interwoven with pictures that provide visual cues, leave room for readers to decipher, consider and comprehend. Natural repetition allows for practice. Overall, this satisfying tale captures the camaraderie of two sisters and shows how the oldest doesn't always have the answers. Now, what will the girls do on Sunday? Achoo! Uh-oh.... An excellent example of how well comics can work for early readers, this warm and accessible story is sure to be a favorite. (Early reader. 4-7)

The Tree Lady

Booklist starred (June 1, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 19))

Grades 1-3. A terrific jacket image shows a tiny girl in a towering forest as seen from above. Who is this girl? And why is she the tree lady? Well, turns out Katherine Olivia Sessions, who grew up in Northern California in the 1860s, always loved trees—she used to weave their leaves into necklaces and bracelets. Girls back then weren’t supposed to get their hands dirty, “but Kate did.” Girls were also discouraged from studying science, but Kate sure did, graduating from the University of California with a degree in science in 1881. Postgraduation, Kate moved to San Diego, a desert town with little greenery. She wrote to gardeners far and wide, seeking out seeds that would thrive in a harsh desert climate, and by the turn of the century, oaks, eucalypti, and palms sprung up throughout the city. But Kate’s biggest planting project would come in 1915 with the Panama-California Exposition, to be held in Balboa Park. Nobody thought that it would be possible to create a lush garden for the event . . . but guess who did? A little-known, can-do woman shines in this handsome picture book from Hopkins and McElmurry. Hopkins ably brings a woman’s passion—and some science—to a story that’s accessible for young children. And, oh the pictures! Both old-timey and lush, they evoke Kate’s vision perfectly, and individually labeled illustrations of trees add to the educational value. A lovely tribute to the pioneering (and environmentalist) spirit, topped off by an author’s note.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Water In the Park

Booklist starred (March 15, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 14))

Preschool-Grade 2. It’s a hot day at the city park, a pleasant green oasis of open space, play equipment, and water. The jacket illustration offers a bird’s-eye view of the pond, hill, playground, and flower beds, areas that will be seen again and again from different angles. Around six o’clock in the morning, several dogs and their people head for the pond. By seven, two babies and their grown-ups have arrived at the playground. Hour by hour throughout the day, visitors come and go. In the crowded playground at ten o’clock, a sprinkler in a shallow pool amuses toddlers, while older kids line up at the drinking fountain for water to fill their water balloons, to wet the sand for sand castles, and to cool the slide. While the quiet text creates a satisfying, structured narrative full of details that will intrigue young children, they will also be engaged by the inviting pictures. Using digitally assembled pencil drawings and ink washes, Graegin creates illustrations with a traditional look and plenty of human interest. The park within the book becomes a destination that a child can visit and revisit, noticing new details each time and connecting familiar ones in new ways. A wonderfully fresh look at a timeless topic.

The Great Lollipop Caper

School Library Journal (April 1, 2013)

K-Gr 2-Being earthy and acidic feels like a curse to Mr. Caper, whose sophisticated flavor appeals only to adults. Kids can't stand him, and he is insanely jealous of Lollipop, wishing that he could take his red rival's place. After Mr. Caper sneaks into the lollipop factory and tampers with the liquid in the vats, green, caper-flavored lollipops emerge, ready for consumption. But the world turns topsy-turvy when children taste the new sour treat and become sourpusses themselves. Now even grown-ups despise Mr. Caper, and it takes the sweet red lollipop to set the world right once more. Remorseful Mr. Caper is forgiven, and, more importantly, he comes to accept that his own unique flavor is perfectly fine. Krall's self-acceptance lesson is delightfully easy to swallow. This hilarious and highly original tale is enhanced by laugh-out-loud Photoshop cartoon illustrations and clever, punchy dialogue. Guaranteed to please a variety of tastes and an undeniably sweet treat for the picture-book shelves.-Gloria Koster, West School, New Canaan, CT (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2011)

Wolitzer turns to writing for young readers with an ever-so-slightlymagical tale of friendship and what it takes to be a winner. Just before starting in a new school, 12-year-old Duncan Dorfmandiscovers he can read through the fingertips of his left hand. His single mother makes him promise not to tell anyone. When he just can't take being a nobody any longer, though, he shows his table mate at lunch and draws the attention of Carl Slater, who is determined to win the national Youth Scrabble Tournament by any means necessary. In Portland, Ore., April Blunt and her Scrabble partner practice regularly and search for a boy April met and lost touch with. In New York, Nate Saviano is struggling under the yolk of homeschooling (which is just his father's way of making him study 24/7 to win the tournament; Mr. Saviano lost when he was 12). The teams bond over Scrabble boards, helping each other win in ways that surprise even them. The novel is shot through with Scrabble words and rules in a way that is reminiscent of Louis Sachar's The Cardturner (2010). Readers will identify with and root for the characters as their tales intertwine to a satisfying if slightly too cheery close. Word wizards aren't the only ones who will enjoy this readable rumination on ethics, competition and identity. (Fiction. 9-14)

Everyone Can Learn To Ride a Bicycle

Booklist starred (April 15, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 16))

Preschool-Grade 2. From the reassuring title onward, this vibrant picture book describes learning to ride a bicycle—a monumental challenge for many children. A father guides his daughter through the process, which begins with choosing the perfect bike, watching others ride, and realizing that all those expert riders once learned this skill as a beginner, too. The girl begins to ride with the training wheels set low, then set high, and then removed. She takes some spills, gets back on, and tries again. When she is frustrated, her father encourages her to try again and again and again—and eventually, she can ride a bicycle. So much is heartening about the book, from the father’s consistently kind, matter-of-fact tone to the fact that the process begins with simple steps and leads up to more challenging ones. Rendered in Raschka’s signature style of fluid, kinetic brushstrokes, the ink-and-watercolor illustrations beautifully capture the action and emotion in each scene. (Safety-minded adults will also be happy to note that the girl is wearing an enormous helmet throughout the book.) Deceptively simple and perfectly paced for read-alouds, this latest from the two-time Caldecott medalist captures a child’s everyday experience with gentle, joyful sensitivity.

Face Bug

School Library Journal (April 1, 2013)

K-Gr 5-Visitors to this book get close-up, photographic views of 15 amazing creatures, including the Hickory Horned Devil and the Nursery Web Spider, whose eyes are impossible to avoid counting. "Eight black eyes in a whiskery face,/Eight round eyes in a dark crawl space/That never bother blinking back/Could give a kid a heart attack!" The endnotes, "written" in first person by the various bugs, describe "Where I Live," "How I Grow," "What I Eat," and "What Eats Me" with scientific accuracy and humor. Budding bug fans will love this title. The poems are funny and based on actual bug behavior and attributes, the photographic portraits of the faces and eyes are marvelous, and the ink and graphite drawings guide readers through the museum collection. Murphy's anthropomorphized creatures visit the "Nectar Cafe" and try on different pairs of glasses to sample being bug-eyed, compound-eyed, eight-eyed. The interactive science museum has gizmos such as cicada sound buttons and a camouflaged Goldenrod Stowaway Moth hidden in a cluster of flowers. Readers will not see bugs again in the same way: "You may think you've seen our Show Bugs in the trees or in the sky,/But you never really know bugs till you look them in the eye." There will be many returns to the Face Bug Museum as this book has so much to offer. Wonderfully conceived and executed.-Teresa Pfeifer, The Springfield Renaissance School, Springfield, MA (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cloneward Bound

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2013)

Fisher Bas and his clone, Two, are back for more action-packed fun. Though surviving the explosion at TechX Industries and revealing Dr. X's evil plans have made Fisher an overnight celebrity at Wompalog Middle School (Popular Clone, 2012), life is still pretty complicated for the seventh-grader. When Fisher learns that Two is not only alive and well, but living the high life in Los Angeles, he must figure out how to reel his clone in before he inadvertently exposes their genetic secret. A surprise class trip brings Fisher to the City of Angels, where he teams up with his classmate Amanda Cantrell to find Two and bring him back to Palo Alto before it's too late. Like a funny James Bond for the middle school set, the close third-person narrative is rife with humor, adventure, gadgetry and even a hint of romance. Fans of the series and new readers alike will eagerly turn the pages as Fisher and Amanda elude school chaperones and government agents, making their way from studio sound stages to the Hollywood Bowl in search of Two. The heart of the story, however, is what makes this book special, and it resides with Fisher, who struggles mightily with his own sense of self-worth when faced with a mirror image of himself that seems to have it all. A successful balance of fizz and substance. (Fantasy. 9-12)

A Dash of Magic

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2013)

In this hilarious sequel to Bliss (2012), 12-year-old Rose Bliss and her eccentric family travel to Paris, where she competes in an international pastry competition to outbake her scheming Aunt Lily Le Fey and recover the Bliss Cookery Booke. After Lily stole the Booke with its secret, special family recipes, the Bliss bakery's pies, muffins and croissants have lost their magic, leaving everyone in Calamity Falls feeling "a bit like warm lettuce." Meanwhile, Lily has a best-selling cookbook and a popular TV cooking show, and her Magical Ingredient threatens to have the "country in the palm of her hand." Determined to stop Lily, Rose challenges her in the formidable Gala des Gteaux Grands, with the Booke as the prize. To assemble the bizarre ingredients for their unconventional recipes, Rose and her family risk their necks and encounter ghostly creatures, searching the Seine, the Louvre, the Catacombs, the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and Notre Dame. Employing unorthodox cat-and-mouse subterfuge, a desperate Rose eventually discovers she may not need magic to be the best baker if she has her family's love. Readers will savor this latest Bliss family adventure as Rose and her siblings traverse Paris trying to outmaneuver Lily and turn the baking world upside down. Spot art captures key themes. Fantastic fantastical fare. (Fantasy. 8-12)


School Library Journal (September 1, 2012)

Gr 4-8-Effortlessly and beautifully, Erdrich continues her story about an Ojibwe family in northern Minnesota in the mid 1800s. The series began with Omakayas's girlhood and now shifts to the lives of her sons. In 1866, quiet Chickadee and mischievous Makoons are inseparable eight-year-old twins, cherished by their extended family. When they gather with other Ojibwe to make maple sugar, a cruel older man mocks Chickadee for his small size and namesake. Makoons defends his brother's honor by playing a revengeful prank on the man, which humiliates and incenses him. His thick-headed, muscle-bound sons vow revenge and kidnap Chickadee, carrying him away and forcing him to serve their bewildering oafish demands. His family is heartbroken and pursues the captors while Makoons becomes listless and ill. Chickadee eventually escapes, in time reuniting with a traveling uncle, who leads the way back to his family. Through many harrowing adventures, the child is aided and encouraged by his avian namesake, who teaches him that small things have great power. Erdrich's storytelling is masterful. All of the characters, even minor ones, are believable and well developed, and small pencil drawings add to the story's charm. The northern Minnesota setting is vividly described, and information about Ojibwe life and culture is seamlessly woven into every page. Readers will be more than happy to welcome little Chickadee into their hearts.-Lisa Crandall, Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

A Big Guy Took My Ball!

Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2013)

Gerald the elephant and Piggie return with another playground psychodrama, this one with a twist. Piggie just loved the big ball she just found--"it was so fun!"--but the fun was short-lived, as the titular "big guy came--and--and--and-- / HE TOOK MY BALL!" Piggie's distress is so great Gerald is literally bowled over. "That is not right!" he declares. "What makes those big guys think they are so big?!" "Their size?" suggests Piggie. Gerald stalks off the page to give the big guy what-for, but...the big guy is "very BIG." In fact, the big guy is a land-going whale, who first thanks Piggie for finding his "little ball" and then laments that no one will play with him because of his extreme size: "LITTLE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN." (The whale speaks in all-uppercase letters, though the font changes with his mood; the previous sentence is printed in tiny, all-capped type.) This morality play in false assumptions and relativity unfurls with Willems' customary command of visual pacing; gags are spaced just right to keep the pages turning and readers giggling. His deft exploitation of comic-book conventions sets speech balloons to overlapping and appropriately varying in size. Nineteen books and five Geisel medals or honors along, Elephant and Piggie are still delivering funny, emotionally perceptive stories for just-emerging readers. As the big guy says: "BIG FUN!" (Early reader. 5-8)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What Animals Do on Day One My First Day

Booklist (November 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 5))

Preschool-Grade 2. What happens on the very first day of different animals’ lives? Jenkins and Page depict 23 different animals (including a leatherback turtle, a giraffe, an emperor penguin, a polar bear, and a parent bug), each of whom narrates, in one or two sentences, what it could or could not do on day one. Some spreads contrast animals, such as the kiwi, who is self-sufficient from birth, and the Siberian tiger cub, who can’t even open its eyes. Occasionally a baby animal is given a full double-page spread, as with the wood duck, who jumps out of the nest on one page and paddles after its mother on the next. The vibrant colors of the cut-paper collages give this book a verve that fills the space of the spare narrations. A glossary at book’s end gives more information on each animal, so readers who are amazed, for example, that a mother zebra spends the first hour of her baby’s life memorizing the baby’s unique striped patterns, can find out more. Fun and very educational.