Tuesday, March 26, 2013

World Rat Day

Horn Book (March/April, 2013)

You may not have been aware that April 10 is Firefly Day, but now that you are, you can celebrate by reading "A Thousand Baby Stars": "How could I ever catch them all / As they were getting ready / To fire up a festival? / ELECTRIFIED CONFETTI." Twenty-one additional obscure but entertaining holidays get their own poem, each one funny, playful, and even instructive, as in "Eight Table Manners for Dragons": "Don't talk with people in your mouth." (The holiday? Dragon Appreciation Day.) Raff's ink washes and drawings feature animals with lots of personality, like the worms who look very worried when advised to "stay away from / The Robin 'hood," while a pair of realistically enormous robins dig their bills into the ground above their heads. The poems vary in length and style, with a concrete poem in the shape of a flamingo for Pink Flamingo Day, and five limericks in honor of May 12, Limerick Day. Children may find themselves inspired to discover (or invent) their own quirky holidays and write some quirky poems, too. susan dove lempke

What if you had Animal Teeth!?

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2013)

What if an animal's teeth grew into the space where you lost your two front teeth? Markle chews on this interesting question in this compelling combination of imagination and fact. Spread by double-page spread, she introduces animals with unusual choppers, from the beaver's iron-coated orange incisors to the camel's worn-out stubs, and explains what they're used for. Or, in the case of the narwhal's single tusk, points out that scientists don't yet know. On the left-hand side of each spread, photographs of the animals emphasize their teeth. On the right, a human child is portrayed with that animal's teeth. These film-animation--style illustrations reinforce the fantasy aspect and feature a diverse range of children. A black-haired boy in flip-flops lifts a car with his elephant tusks. A girl in a wheelchair picks up soup noodles with her flexible, naked-mole-rat front teeth. The text is presented in small chunks--a paragraph of description and a toothy fact on one page facing a paragraph about what you could do with such teeth. The reading will be a challenge for the intended audience, but the subject so compelling they won't be able to resist. A backpack-wearing boy with dark-framed glasses and dripping fangs greets a rattlesnake on the cover. Irresistible. (Informational picture book. 5-9)

Take Me Out to the Yakyu

Booklist starred (February 15, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 12))

Preschool-Grade 2. Holding baseball jerseys from both the U.S. and Japan, this picture book’s young biracial narrator opens this two-country excursion by stating, I love baseball . . . in America . . . and in Japan. Readers will see why as the boy attends games in each country, accompanied by a doting grandfather. In the snappy text and parallel panels and pages, the boy delights in pointing out the differences in everything from the ballpark food (peanuts vs. soba noodles) to cheers and customs, though the pictures show some similarities as well. The day concludes with a bubble bath in the U.S., a steam ofuro in Japan, and then bed, surrounded by souvenirs of the day. The art has a fresh, attractive, naif quality that fits the story perfectly. Using mostly blue for the American team and red for the Japanese, the bright artwork does an excellent job of delineating each place while capturing the enthusiasm they share. Final pages include a chart of baseball words and other terms in English and Japanese and an author’s note with additional information. Easy to follow and fascinating even for nonfans, this bicultural baseball outing provides a fresh, joyful take on the grand old game.

Something To Prove The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe Demaggio

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 1, 2013)

A little-known episode in the careers of two baseball giants highlights the racial divide in the game. In 1936, pitcher Satchel Paige was already a veteran hero in Negro League baseball, while Joe DiMaggio was a hot, young prospect under consideration by the New York Yankees. Yankee management's plan was to have DiMaggio bat against Paige in a game between white and black barnstorming teams as a test of his ability to hit the best of the best. DiMaggio managed only an infield hit off Paige, but it was enough to prove himself to the Yankees. Skead details the events of the game with an air of excitement and expectancy, keying in on both men's strategies and thoughts; Joe tells himself to keep his eye on the ball, and Satchel decides to throw his "wobbly ball" or his "whipsey dipsey do." Underlying the narrative is sadness that DiMaggio would go on to an enormous career with the Yankees, while Satchel Paige, who had proven himself one of the greatest pitchers of all time, would not play for a major league team until he was over 40 years old. Cooper's soft-edged brown, amber and green illustrations lovingly depict the action and emotions called forth in the text. A loving tribute to Satchel Paige, who never looked back in anger. (author's note, bibliography) (Picture book. 7-12)

Auntie Yang's Great Soybean Picnic

Booklist starred (April 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 16))

Grades K-2. Historical fiction, at its best, makes the specific universal. Here that happens in the story of two sisters, Jinyi and Pei, who live in a small Indiana town in the 1950s. Some of their best times come during visits to their mother’s sister, Auntie Yang, and her family near Chicago. With so few other Chinese families living in the Midwest at the time, the sisters want their children to be like four soybeans in a soybean pod. But real soybeans, a Chinese delicacy, seem impossible to come by until one day, the families are driving through farmland and are shocked to see a soybean field. The soybeans were being grown as animal feed, but after the farmer gives the family enough to take home, the aunts make boiled soybeans, which everyone enjoys at a picnic. The next year, Auntie Yang invites several other Chinese families over, and as the years go on, more than 200 friends and families join the festivities. This heartfelt story (based on the author’s and illustrator’s childhoods) is absolutely delicious. Readers will feel a kinship with the young cousins, who are isolated at first but soon become the center of an annual tradition. Adding an extra layer of delight to the story is the unique artwork. Beth Lo is a ceramic artist, and she painted the illustrations on plates that fill the pages. The winsome pictures, drawn with a childlike charm, capture the warmth of family, friendship, and food. The afterword, with photos, is a bonus.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

999 Frogs Wake Up

Booklist (March 1, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 13))

Preschool-Grade 2. It’s pretty darn difficult to find a more charming book than 999 Tadpoles (2011). Kimura kindly updates us on the oversize family’s status, beginning with the little frogs poking their heads out of the dirt to awaken on a lovely morning. Mother Frog’s head count, though, only reaches 998. Who is missing? Ah, it’s their big brother, who is not only literally big but also leads the charge to rouse other slumbering animals from beneath rocks and leaves so that they too might enjoy the blossoming spring. A turtle, a lizard, some ladybugs—all are thankful for the wake-up call. And then there’s the hole. Better wake up whoever is in there too, eh? Bad idea: a snake, rather like the one in 999 Tadpoles, awaits to give the family more grief. Murakami’s big-eyed, kelly-green amphibians, set against large white backdrops, are just as cute now as they were as newborns, and their heedless groupthink as they race around being gee-whiz about everything remains downright ­adorable.

Cover image for 999 frogs wake up

The Matchbox Diary

School Library Journal (March 1, 2013)

Gr 1-4-An Italian-American immigrant shares his childhood memories with his great-granddaughter. The twist of this tale is that his memories have been kept in a "diary" of saved objects that commemorate the important events of his life. As a poor child who could neither read nor write, this now-elderly gentleman found a unique way to preserve his memories by saving the objects in matchboxes. Among the many items were a box of sunflower seed shells that counted the days from Naples to New York, a fish bone to remember the long days the entire family had to work in the canneries, and a ticket stub from his first baseball game. The journey unfolds prompted by the child's curious questions. Her inquiries provoke the descriptive vignettes of an earlier time and yet frame the story through the eyes of a youngster of today. Ibatoulline's sepia-toned illustrations beautifully express this immigrant's tale from Italy to Ellis Island and the start of a new life. They also provide a wonderful contrast to the warm-colored illustrations that depict a loving, appreciative relationship between an elderly man and a young child. This lovingly crafted picture book tells an amazing story that is uniquely American. Through unsentimental, yet warm and touching dialogue, Fleischman successfully shares a powerful journey that captures the hardships, self-reliance, strength, and simple joys that characterized early immigrants. It provides an inspirational introduction to the immigration story that captures the humanity of the journey.-Carole Phillips, Greenacres Elementary School, Scarsdale, NY (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

A Little Book of Sloth

Booklist (December 15, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 8))

Grades 2-4. Kids, you can’t possibly imagine the level of cuteness at work in this book. Here’s a visual: a baby sloth hugs a teddy bear, and he’s smaller than the bear. There are sloths in pjs, sloths gnawing on green beans, and even a pile o’ sloths in a bucket. Of course, in addition to the huggable pictures and handsome book design, there’s a story here too. Cooke, photographer, zoologist, and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, introduces a rehabilitation sanctuary in “a sleepy corner of Costa Rica,” home to approximately 150 slow-moving residents. Judy Arroyo is “mom” to each of these creatures, from Buttercup, the first tiny orphan that landed on her doorstep, to Sunshine and Sammy, rescued from poachers. Cooke points out in her lively text that there are two families of sloth: the three-fingered Bradypus and the two-fingered Choloepus (“a cross between a Wookie and a pig”). Fascinating facts about sloths abound. Move over puppies, kittens, and piglets—kids are going to have a new favorite animal when they get their hands on this, especially given the unofficial sloth motto: “Just chill.”

I Funny A Middle School Story

Booklist (October 15, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 4))

Grades 4-7. Built around the notion of a middle-grade stand-up comedian who delivers jokes sitting down because he is confined to a wheelchair, this tale is written as an extended monologue in which Jamie Grimm (get it?) introduces loyal school friends, his mostly loving adoptive family, and Stevie—his new brother, who is also a vicious bully both online and in person—then proceeds to savage them all indiscriminately from a talent-contest stage. Playing readers’ heartstrings like a banjo, Patterson and Grabenstein also chuck in two girlfriends and a first kiss, hints of a family tragedy strung out until near the end, an uplifting spontaneous routine delivered to the patients of a children’s rehab center, and, both in the narrative and in the line drawings on almost every page, dozens of gags both classic (Do zombies eat doughnuts with their fingers? No. They usually eat their fingers separately) and not so much (When kids in Grossville say, ‘Mommy, can I lick the bowl?’ their mothers say, ‘Be quiet, dear, and just flush’). In all, a brimming bucket of ba-da-bing! that hardly needs a celebrity author to crank up the audience numbers. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Patterson’s full-court press to capture the attention of every market in the reading public continues—and 25 million books sold for young readers proves it’s working.

Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2011)

Squirrels, watch out; there's a new cat in town. These pesky rodents perpetually annoy ornery Old Man Fookwire, shooting through his mail slot and finishing his crossword puzzles. The cunning critters lose their mischievous edge when Little Old Lady Hu moves in next door, though. Her delectable desserts are no compensation for the vicious pet she brings into the neighborhood. She's adamant that her "cuddly honey bunny" Muffins wouldn't harm a fly, but this antagonistic feline is far from kind. His outrageous tactics win him numero uno status among the resident animals; he's even successful in administering wedgies to the mortified squirrels. Fed up with the harassment, the victimized critters form an alliance to thwart this backyard bully. The droll narrative shines in its details. Quirky expressions depict outrage and delight ("Great googley-moogley!"); trenchant language captures personality (Muffins "was a real jerk"). Salmieri's illustrations provide the perfect counterpoint. The treacherous housecat's mannerisms resemble a feline Dr. Evil; his cunning smile and crossed legs exude a delightfully awful menace. Watercolor, gouache and colored pencil spreads provide a light background for each comic interaction. This sassy sequel to Those Darn Squirrels! (2008) lets readers feel the thrill of putting bullies in their place. Great googley-moogley, indeed. (Picture book. 5-8)

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Booklist starred (February 15, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 12))

Grades 4-7. Nearly abandoned in a forest by his stepfather, young orphan Jinx lands, instead, in the home of a wizard, Simon. There Jinx, who has always had an ability to see others’ feelings in colors and symbols, develops the ability to communicate with the forest’s trees. But after Simon performs a spell, Jinx loses his capacity as an emotional seer. Setting out into the forest to look for a counterspell, Jinx joins company with a girl and a boy, both of whom are suffering under their own curses. In this expertly paced, beautifully written book, Blackwood elevates familiar fantasy elements with exquisitely credible characters who inhabit a world filled with well-drawn magic and whimsy—witches travel by butter churn, for example. Rounding out the exciting story are terrifying dangers, delightful bouts of wordplay, and vivid settings that will appeal to readers’ imaginations, senses of humor, and desire for fair play. A literary cut above Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books but with no less tension or bravado, this exciting, thought-provoking debut will leave readers eager for follow-up adventures.

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2013)

Eighteen poems designed to be read aloud present the world of growing things in paired first-person voices. Ideal for classroom use, this collection of short performance pieces introduces seed distribution, plant germination, the roles of roots and sunlight, pollinators and some familiar creatures. Working this plant world are two kinds of bees, worms, snails, ladybugs and, of course, monarch butterflies--as caterpillars munching milkweed, in chrysalises and emerging to fly. With short lines, judicious use of rhyme and some interesting language, the poetry works well. "Let's get out of these coats. / I'm not ready. Please wait! / It's easy. I'll show you. / Watch me germinate." The personification of each subject will appeal to young readers, and the voices are distinguished by spacing on the page as well as by color. For the most part, each double-page spread contains a single poem, illustrated withYelchin's bright graphite-and-gouache paintings, which take full advantage of the author's colorful subjects. There are indoor and outdoor scenes: One child blows a dandelion seed; two others observe seedlings. Other animals appear, too: birds, a dog, a hungry rabbit and a curious vole. Connections are everywhere. On a final page, Gerber summarizes the processes introduced in her poems. A pleasing introduction to plant biology with cross-curricular appeal. (Informational poetry. 4-7)

Follow Follow

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2013)

A companion piece to the acclaimed Mirror, Mirror (2010), this offering presents more delightful "reverso" poems to treasure. As in the original volume, each page spread presents an expertly crafted poem based on a fairy tale coupled with a second poem which is, with only minor changes in capitalization and punctuation, the first poem in reverse. Together, the two poems offer new perspectives and insights into familiar tales and their characters. Take, for example, the poems based on "Thumbelina." The first verse, from the girl's perspective, begins, "Me / marry / a mole? / I am / small, / but / my dreams are / lofty and daring, / not / constant and safe," while the second verse, in the voice of the mole this time, ends with "constant and safe, / not / lofty and daring. / My dreams are / but / small. / I am / a mole. / Marry / me." Other featured tales include "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Tortoise and the Hare," "The Princess and the Pea," "The Three Little Pigs" and more. Masse's bold and brilliant illustrations bring the poems to life, showcasing the different perspectives while maintaining a lovely sense of unity by essentially dividing each painting into two distinct images while incorporating elements that inextricably yoke each image to its counterpart. Read alongside the traditional tales it plays off of or enjoyed on its own, this volume is one to savor. (about reversos, about the tales) (Picture book/poetry. 8-12)

Don't Squish the Sasquatch!

Booklist (July 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 21))

Grades K-2. This one doesn’t make a lick of sense—and it’s all the better for it. Señor Sasquatch is the first monster aboard Mr. Blobule’s bus. “I hope it doesn’t get too crowded,” Sasquatch says. “I do not like to get squished!” That’s rather unfortunate, considering the five enormous monsters that get on at the next five stops, including such gargantuan guests as Miss Elephant Shark, Mr. Goat-Whale, and Miss Loch-Ness-Monster-Space-Alien. Thus, Redeker’s read-aloud pattern is set: a monster gets on; the bus driver shouts, “DON’T SQUISH THE SASQUATCH!!!”; rinse; and repeat. Staake’s bright digital illustrations keep everything slanted and off-kilter, though even the absurd art can’t prepare readers for the head-scratching finale. Sasquatch gets squished, the bus explodes (in a four-page foldout), and then each monster must smooch Sasquatch back to life. Well, whatever; it’s all goofy good fun. Until the group hug that ends the celebration—what did we say about being squished?

The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot!

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2013)

Some boys cry wolf, but to the admiration of one individual, Ben cries Bigfoot. The opening line by an unseen narrator introduces the young tale-teller: "This is the story of my friend Ben and how we first met." Events unfold over the course of a day, with cartoon-style art providing definitive clues as to the passage of time. In the morning, Ben rides his bicycle to the top of a hill, where he calls out: "LOOK, EVERYONE! IT'S BIGFOOT!" With the narrator providing commentary, the hilltop becomes a stage onto which other characters enter and exit. Ben is the constant, always trying to provoke response. Readers will quickly note that the indulgent narrator's voice is at odds with Ben's increasingly frantic antics, and they will begin to wonder just who is telling the story. Could it be Bigfoot? Indeed! He likes Ben's determination--and Ben's bike, which he takes for a little spin that night, leaving a scared Ben behind. Youngsters may at first feel glad that Ben gets his comeuppance when no one rushes to his aid but will soon relent when they see how forlorn Ben looks alone in the dark. Once home, it seems Ben has learned his lesson, although how he determines to tell the truth in the future is bound to leave readers giggling. Entertaining and clever--and that's no lie. (Picture book. 4-8)