Monday, April 13, 2015

Ms. Rapscott's Girls

Booklist starred January 1, 2015 (Vol. 111, No. 9)
Grades 3-6. A notice goes out: “Attention Busy Parents! Great Rapscott School for Girls of Busy Parents has a unique curriculum designed solely for your daughter.” For parents who are too busy to bring their daughters (which is all of them), a cardboard box is provided for mailing them to the school. This sets the tone for a story that fits neatly into the literary world of Mary Poppins and Nanny Piggins, where bemused children are brought up to snuff by a caring, albeit odd and occasionally alarming, caretaker. Here the children are belligerent Bea, fact-filled Amanda, nervous Fay, and lazy Mildred, and their teacher is Ms. Rapscott, a head-girl type who was once a child of busy parents herself and prefers a life so bracing that she lives in a lighthouse where the weather is always bad. How Ms. Rapscott pushes her charges beyond what they thought themselves capable of makes for a clever, highly amusing read with some sterling life lessons slipped in the cracks. Almost best of all are Primavera’s fanciful pencil illustrations, featuring two of the most delightful (if silent) of the book’s characters, Lewis and Clark, turtlenecked corgis that efficiently manage the girls and their hair-raising adventures. A plucky, invigorating romp with more adventures on the horizon.

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

Booklist starred February 15, 2015 (Vol. 111, No. 12)
Grades 3-5. In droll counterpoint to the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, Yep and Ryder offer a similar interspecies matchup from the dragon’s point of view. Miss Drake, a 3,000-year-old dragon, is initially annoyed when Winifred, 10, barges into her hidden lair beneath a San Francisco mansion. It seems that Winnie’s widowed mom has inherited the house from Miss Drake’s most recent and still sharply missed human “pet,” Fluffy (aka Great-Aunt Amelia). The irritating child has been left a key and a charge to take care of the lonely dragon. Being a responsible sort (as well as a shapechanger and a thoroughly modern dragon with a smartphone and a debit card), Miss Drake reluctantly takes Winnie under her wing—or tries to, as the strong-willed child has ideas of her own. Despite their differences, the two make a good team, as they prove in narrowly averting major disaster to the city and its magical community, after a flock of creatures Winnie has drawn in a special sketchbook come to life. In vignettes that open each chapter, illustrator GrandPr√© depicts the diverse creatures, along with glimpses of dragon, child, and various significant items with her customary flair and expertise. Warm humor, magical mishaps, and the main characters’ budding mutual respect and affection combine to give this opener for a planned series a special shine that will draw readers and leave them impatient for sequels.

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake

Kirkus Reviews starred February 15, 2015

Two police mice, one missing cake, a bunch of suspects--it's a big case!When Miss Rabbit leaves her carrot cake (with cream-cheese icing) out to cool and returns later to find only a mess of crumbs, she calls Detective Wilcox and Capt. Griswold. Over 100 animals on Ed's farm means there's a lot of suspects. Tongue firmly in cheek, Wilcox tells the story of this challenging case in clipped tones reminiscent of Dragnet. Fowler, the observant owl, loves rabbits, he informs readers. "She liked them for breakfast. She liked them for lunch. And she loved them for dinner." His narration is peppered with food references that elevate this entertaining mystery, already fizzing with humor and inside jokes. To open their investigation, they slide down the rabbit hole, but Miss Rabbit does not have a crumb of an idea. The repeated food-based idioms (hard nut to crack, slower than molasses, take the cake) alternate with puns that a young reader will appreciate. When questioning Porcini the pig, Wilcox accuses, "Seems like you've spent some time in the pen." The droll language is complemented with full-color cartoon illustrations that extend the text and add to the laughter. Readers ready for chapter books will solve the crime and then be surprised by the twist at the end. Here's hoping for more hard-boiled detecting from Wilcox and Griswold! (Mystery. 5-9)

By Mouse & Frog

Publishers Weekly February 16, 2015
Mouse and Frog are avid storytellers. But the careful, deliberate Mouse has in mind a solo project-a tightly focused sketch of domestic life ("Once upon a time... in a quiet little home, Mouse woke up early and set the table")-while Frog is eager to collaborate on a sprawling, mostly incoherent epic involving a king, a dragon and lots of ice cream. It's a clash of creative wills and methods, which Freedman (The Story of Fish and Snail) portrays by having her protagonists draw their subject matter as they narrate it. Frog's ideas quickly (and literally) overwhelm Mouse, but the rodent's friendship clearly means a lot, and in one of many funny scenes, Frog sadly but dutifully erases his contributions, and solemnly tells his characters, "This story is Mouse's." But maybe a partnership isn't out of the question: Mouse's gift for structure and restraint and Frog's boundless imagination could create something wonderful. Wearing its metafictionality lightly and told largely through dialogue that begs for performance, Freedman's story speaks to power of creative passion and the rewards of playing well with others. Ages 3-5. Agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Bambino and Me

Booklist May 15, 2014 (Online)

Grades 2-4. What’s a Yankees fan doing in a Red Sox jersey? For his tenth birthday, George received both a dream and a nightmare. The dream: a pair of tickets to a Yankees game. The nightmare, for a true-blue fan: a Red Sox jersey and cap from a Boston uncle. Looking back at his childhood in the Bronx in 1927, the elderly storyteller recalls that summer. When he resisted the shirt, he got his mouth washed out with soap for “talking back.” In spite of his having to wear the hateful colors, his first-ever trip to a baseball game and a conversation with his hero, Babe Ruth, made for a day he never forgot. The narrator’s discomfort and embarrassment are realistic, as is Ruth’s advice. In Pullen’s stylized oil paintings, facial features are exaggerated and expressive. These elements add plenty of humor to this nostalgic and heartwarming story for fans of any age. Extra innings: the book jacket becomes a poster, and the book comes with a CD of the story, ably narrated by actor Jason Alexander.