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)