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.