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.

Cold Cereal

Horn Book (January/February, 2012)

In the town of Goodborough, home to the Goodco cereal company, new kid Scott Doe is seeing things. Specifically, a rabbit-headed man, a unicat, and a leprechaun named Mick. His only friends, brainy twins Erno and Emily Utz, are working on the latest puzzle their guardian has set them when a creepy Goodco "doctor" reveals they're subjects in a Goodco experiment. In a zany adventure filled with Arthurian references and sly parodies of popular breakfast cereals, Scott, Erno, and Emily set out to find the connection between the megalomaniac cereal company and magical beings enslaved for their "glamour," all the while keeping one step ahead of the Goodco goons who want to dissect Emily to analyze the results of their experiment. An expansive cast of colorful characters (including Merle Lynn, an accountant) keep the surprises coming. Cartoon illustrations of dramatic moments and drawn panels accompanying TV commercial scripts supplement the text. Rex takes his time mounting his preposterous edifice of a plot, but reader interest and suspension of disbelief never flag in this humorous, consistently entertaining, well-spun yarn. anita l. burkam

Splat the Cat with a Bang and a Clang

From the Publisher:

Splat's friends are having a rehearsal for their cool new band, the Cat Gang. But something's missing . . . it just doesn't feel right without Splat! Everyone wants Splat to join the band. But Splat can't sing and he doesn't play an instrument! What can he do that is perfect for the Cat Gang?

Beginning readers will cheer on Splat in his noisy and hilarious quest to become a member of the band.

The Books of Elsewhere The Second Spy

Booklist (October 1, 2012 (Online))

Grades 4-6. Odd things continue to happen at the old Victorian house where Olive lives. But Olive and her friend, Morton, discover that evil (and dead) Annabelle McMartin can create havoc outside the house, too. When Olive learns that Morton may be leaving town, she despairs. He is one of the few who know her secret—and her only friend in junior high. Once again filled with clever talking cats, paintings that come alive, and nefarious goings-on, this light fantasy/mystery will be enjoyed by fans of the Elsewhere series, and since it makes a game effort to stand alone, new readers may be lured in as well.

Liar & Spy

Horn Book (September/October, 2012)

Life is lousy for Brooklyn seventh-grader Georges. His architect father has been laid off so they’ve had to move, and he never sees his mother now that she’s doing double shifts as an intensive-care nurse. School is no respite, what with former best friend Jason having ditched him to sit at the cool lunch table and with bully Dallas’s endless torments. And so when he meets homeschooler Safer, who lives in his new building and offers to train him as a spy, Georges figures, why not? Their target is one Mr. X, who lives on the fourth floor and, according to Safer, has been behaving in some very worrisome ways. Wild parrots, Scrabble tiles, SweeTarts, the Science Unit of Destiny, and America’s Funniest Home Videos all factor into this smart, slightly noirish tale. As she did in her Newbery winner When You Reach Me (rev. 7/09), Stead creates a rich world contained within a few city blocks. We visit candy store owner Bennie and experience his unique method of giving change, get a sense of DeMarco’s excellent pizza, and read the eccentric fortunes that come in the cookies at Yum Li’s ("Why don’t you look up once in a while? Is something wrong with your neck?"). Stead’s spare and elegant prose, compassionate insight into the lives of young people, wry sense of humor, deft plotting, and ability to present complex ideas in an accessible and intriguing way make this much more than a mystery-with-a-twist. monica edinger

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers

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

Preschool-Grade 3. In this unusual picture book, a boy shares his inventive plan for reaching the moon, planting sunflower seeds, and returning to a hero’s welcome back on Earth. What with “homework, soccer, violin, and all the other stuff” on his schedule, he has never made the trip. Still, he happily passes along the practical details of his plan. Preparations include collecting and connecting all your neighbors’ old garden hoses into one 238,900-mile length, building an enormous slingshot that will shoot one end of the hose to the moon (don’t forget the anchor), learning to bicycle along the taut hose, and requesting a small spacesuit from NASA, among other important details. Brightly illustrated in cartoon-style panels as well as the occasional double-page spread, the imaginative, first-person text will be riveting for process-minded kids. Because, really, who doesn’t want to make a giant slingshot using 2,000 interwoven inner tubes and a couple of birch trees on top of a hill, not to mention travel in space? Can’t quite visualize it? Not to worry. Fresh and often-amusing ink drawings, brightened with color washes, illustrate every moment of the adventure. Gerstein, a Caldecott-winning illustrator, offers a uniquely entertaining picture book that glows with the satisfaction of a boy who knows he could travel to the moon.

Pug and Other Animal Poems

Horn Book (March/April, 2013)

Valerie Worth is fondly remembered for her small books of "small poems" -- delicate epiphanies springing from thoughts on such ordinary things as a book, a fence, an acorn, rags -- all exquisitely illustrated with Natalie Babbitt's small, delicate line drawings (gathered in All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, rev. 3/95). Like Jenkins's first collection of Worth's poems, Animal Poems (rev. 5/07), Pug features a radically different design from that of those quiet earlier books, so in tune with Worth's elegantly simple verse. Still, times change, and Jenkins's bold collages of precisely observed creatures effectively dramatize these eighteen welcome additions to Worth's oeuvre. The soulful, lifesize "Pug" face on the jacket is a worried charmer ("Perhaps because, for / Dogs, they look / A lot like people"); a primeval black bull personifies his kind ("Rough-hewn, / From the planet's / Hard side, / From the cold / Black rock / That abides"). A few illustrations seem out of scale with their subjects and with the lovely verse: Jenkins's thrush is outsize and raucous, an unlikely source for one of nature's sweetest songs. Worth's poems remain a marvel and a joy: each offers, like the firefly here, its "Gold-green / Revelation, before / Slipping out / Between crossed / Thumbs, and slyly / Winking away." joanna rudge long

I Scream Ice Cream: A Book of Wordles

Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2013)

This playful collection of 14 ingeniously illustrated "wordles" introduces readers to homophones. Opening with a definition of wordles as "groups of words that sound exactly the same but mean different things," the text immediately offers examples "I scream/ice cream" and "heroes/he rows." Commencing the game, it challenges readers to guess the second wordle of each subsequent pair before turning the page. Guessing "rain, dear" for "reindeer" may be obvious, but other wordles prove more challenging. Guessing "icy" for "I see" is not a stretch, but a second option of "Aye, sea!" may be, without the visual context of a pirate ship. Indeed, the zany, clever multimedia illustrations, with their deceptively childlike figures drawn in stark, black outlines, create a humorous visual context for each wordle, spinning surprising links between verbal juxtapositions. "A family affair" is visually represented by a line of people wearing assorted headgear. Its wordle, "a family of hair," is visually cued with the same line of people raising their chapeaux to reveal wild hair. Likewise, the illustration for "princess cape" of a creepy princess in a cape trying to kiss a knight tied up in yarn is followed by the wordle "prince escape," showing the foiled princess throwing up her arms as the knight's foot disappears through a door. Witty wordplay guaranteed to tease and tickle. (Picture book. 5 & up)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hoop Genius

Booklist (February 1, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 11))

Grades 2-4. In December 1891, James Naismith, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts, was looking for a way to channel the energy, impatience, and eagerness of his male students. Recalling a game he knew as a child, called Duck on a Rock, he invented a lesson using an old soccer ball and two peach baskets to minimize contact injuries and emphasize finesse and accuracy over brute strength. Pretty quickly, Naismith knew he was onto something: though only one basket was scored the entire first game, his students didn’t want to leave gym class. Over Christmas vacation, the kids taught the game to friends, and soon, a group of women teachers from a nearby school dropped by to learn the new sport. By 1936, Naismith’s game had become an Olympic event. Well researched with material artifacts and primary sources, this historical account is boosted significantly by blocky, muscular illustrations in muted tones that effortlessly mix tongue-in-cheek whimsy with serious action. Anybody who plays the game or watches it ought to find this pretty engrossing.


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

Preschool-Grade 1. A family of frogs have no idea why there’s a pig sitting on a rock in their pond, saying “Ribbit!” “Does he think he’s a frog? Is he making fun of us?” they ask. News of the pig-frog travels fast, and soon a raccoon, a turtle, and a weasel have arrived to witness the curiosity for themselves. With no more than “Ribbits” of explanation from the pig, the animals seek the council of a wise beetle; but when the beetle, who can’t travel all that quickly, arrives back at the pond, the rock is empty. “Maybe,” he says, “the pig just wanted to make new friends.” Sure enough, our little pink pig has up and moved to a tree nearby, perched with the birds, and is practicing his “Tweet!” This is a sweet story about friendship, but it’s Bernatene’s illustrations of heavily textured and hugely expressive animals that are a joy. The frogs in particular charm, with their growing outrage expressed in skinny crossed arms and lolling eyeballs. Get ready to “Ribbit” at friendship-themed story hours.

Pirates vs. Cowboys

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

Preschool-Grade 2. Linguistic jargon gets plenty of play as the titular pirates and cowboys face off in this fanciful picture book that embraces the popular premise of mixing up oddball characters (think Jon Scieszka’s Cowboy and Octopus, 2007, and Patricia Storms’ The Pirate and the Penguin, 2009). A sea-creature-staffed pirate crew discovers they need a new place to bury treasure, having used up their seaside real estate. They lumber inland all the way to Cheyenne. Alas, the western town is run by a passel of outlaw cowboys (farm animals, mostly), and trouble begins when neither group understands the other. “Me hearties” armed with cutlasses and looking for “fair scrub and a swish” are countered by rootin’-tootin’ gunslingers who demand the pirates “head for the hills.” Only Pegleg Highnoon, “the world’s only pirate cowboy,” can avert the danger. Barneda’s beady-eyed acrylics are rendered in the dusty tones of the plains, while generous white space places emphasis upon the text. A goofy, quirky story with a useful and unusual vocabulary-building twist. Yee-haw!

Nugget & Fang

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

Grades K-2. Most picture books don’t come with a subtitle, but it so happens this subtitle neatly sums up the plot. Two unlikely underwater friends are torn apart when the minnow goes to school for the first time and finds out the “truth” about the shark. Nugget and Fang (you can guess which one is which) are introduced as perfectly compatible as they swim in deep ocean; one’s grin is huge and toothy, and the other’s is small but wide. But when the minnow keeps being told about the dangers of the shark, he begins to have doubts and swims “far, far away.” Slack’s bright blue scenes are full of action, reaction, and witty details, but they also manage to capture the loneliness of the once-happy shark. (That fanged frown is huge.) Luckily for Fang, the author believes in happy endings and has the shark save the day for Nugget and nine fellow minnows, who all become Fang’s friends. Ridiculous? Yep, but goofy good times anyway.

Knit Your Bit

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

Grades K-3. With WWI raging, everyone at home is expected to do their bit. Mikey and his sister Ellie want to help; Mikey is hoping to do something big. That most certainly does not include knitting (Boys don’t knit!). Even after Ellie shows him a picture of firemen knitting, Mikey refuses. But a knit-in with prizes in Central Park draws the boys of Miss Robin’s class into a contest against the Purl Girls. Let the knitting commence. The day of the contest finds Mikey in the park, trying to finish a pair of socks—but a hole in the second sock means ripping it down and losing the contest. However, a chance encounter with a one-legged soldier gives the single sock a home and offers Mikey a more rounded vision of what it means to help. Hopkinson reached back into history to come up with this golden nugget: during WWI, women, children—and men—took up knitting when it was discovered soldiers didn’t have enough hats, scarves, and socks. The bright telling is right at a kid’s level and captures both the specificity of the time and universality of human interactions. The author’s note (bolstered by an image of a contemporaneous poster) puts the fiction in solid historical context. Guarnaccia has chosen to illustrate in a style reminiscent of old-time Sunday funnies, which is perfect for the story. Oversize and set on white backgrounds, the pictures keep the focus on the amiable characters. The story ends by reminding readers they can still knit for today’s soldiers. A terrific yarn.