BooksForKidsBlog

Friday, April 20, 2018

Welcome to Our World! Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

To my son, Harland.

This book was written in the first two months of your life as I tried to make sense of it all for you.

These are the things I think you need to know.

Who wouldn't want to give their child the wisdom of the universe?

Oliver Jeffers wisely elects to limit himself (with just a hint of the Milky Way) to the solar system, which he sketches out for Harland, with special emphasis on Planet Earth, for good reason. As he points out, "It's all we've got."

We're glad you found us, as space is very big.

Jeffers decides to divide the planet into two realms--land and sea, and the creatures that dwell thereon--or thereunder, as the case may be. He pencils in all sorts of weather--storms and sunshine, day and night, and various creatures--beginning with persons of various physical types.

But don't be fooled. We are all people.

You are a person. You have one body. Look after if because most parts don't grow back!

Use your time well. It will be gone before you know it.

In his usual wry voice and sketchy, scratchy illustrations and lettering, author Jeffers offers baby Harland good advice, along with some of his trademark humorous touches. In his treatise on the sky he labels the atmosphere and the stratosthingy. Explaining the diurnal cycle, the describes the daytime as when "we do stuff." In his two-page spread depicting the variety of Earth's creatures, he sticks in the dodo, who admits in a speech balloon that "I'm not supposed to be here." and when he generalizes that animals don't talk, a cheeky parrot pops up to say "I do!" And when it's time for getting deep into the details, Jeffers offers a promise: : "We know a bit about the sea, but we'll talk some more about that once you've learned to swim."

By the multiple award-winning Oliver Jeffers, Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth (Philomel Books, 2017, Am. ed), is the creation of a children's author whose picture books, like this best-seller, speak to both children and the adults in their lives. Great for a birthday, great for Earth Day, this book is filled with Jeffers' mind-opening illustrations and those tidbits of worldly wisdom you wish you could give your children about living on our place in space--if they would sit still for it--and now, with this book, maybe they will!

As Publishers Weekly sums it up, "Moments of human intimacy jostle with scenes that inspire cosmic awe, and the broad diversity of Jeffers's candy-colored humans—-musicians, hijabis, nuns, explorers, potentates—underscores the twin messages that 'You're never alone on Earth" and that we're all in this together.'"

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Getting to Gnome Me...! Sherlock Gnomes: Gnome, Sweet Gnome by Tina Gallo

Hello. My name is Sherlock Gnomes.

But then, you probably knew that already, because I am the world's first consulting detective, and sworn protector of London's garden gnomes.

And Sherlock has his work cut out for him. There's a perplexing problem with Gnomeland Security: garden ornaments are being mysteriously pilfered. It's a gnome invasion!

With his trusty partner, Dr. Watson, Sherlock considers the potential suspects.

Gnomeo is obviously in love with Juliet. Although Gnomeo is not the brightest gnome in the garden, he and his pretty love interest, Juliet, seem sincerely interested in helping Sherlock solve the case. And then there are their friends, Benny and Nanette, who seem also to love the garden, and Lady Blackberry, Gnomeo's mother, and the crusty Lord Redbrick, who both hope to retire and let Gnomeo and Juliet take over the care of the garden.

But now there are eight garden gnomes who have disappeared from their proper places. Where are their friends? Are they now homeless gnomes?

But before the garden will again be secure, Sherlock and Watson have a couple of potential suspects to deal with--the crafty Irene Adler and archenemy Moriarity, with his scary sidekicks, the Gargoyles.

The game is afoot, in Tina Gallo's Gnome, Sweet Gnome (Sherlock Gnomes) (Simon Spotlight, 2018), as Sherlock matches wits with Moriarity once again. With Jenny Yoon's colorful illustrations, Gallo introduces youngsters to the archetype of the brainy detective Sherlock and the cast of supporting pun-enabled characters to the current movie, Gnome, Sweet, Gnome, a chance for young readers and viewers to sample some punny and funny detective work before their garden again becomes home, sweet gnome.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Case of the Misplaced Letters! If the S in Moose Comes Loose by Peter Herman

If the S in MOOSE comes loose and the E breaks free...

What's left ? A gloomy MOO from a cow who doesn't know what to do....

What's in a name? If a moose's letters can get loose, what can COW do to protect her MOO?
Cow figures she needs G-L-U-E.

COW figures that if she can glue the S and the E together and then stick them back on the MOO, all their problems will be solved. Is that TRUE?

Er, NO. It's not that easy. COW encounters complications.

"WAIT! I'm out of GLUE!
I'll just spell it! That's what I'll do!"

It's just four little letters, after all. How hard can it be?

But when Cow grabs a G for GLUE from GOAT and then begs a B from BEAR to make Goat a BOAT for the interim, complications arise and hilarity ensues. Bear doesn't care for being an EAR, and Lake is unwilling to share his L and be a CAKE, and HOUSE resolutely refuses to be a HOSE....

"Bummer!" says Cow. "My U fell through."

You can see the problem when Cow tries to play scrabble with everyone's proprietary spelling, in Peter Herman's If the S in Moose Comes Loose (Harper, 2018).  Kids just learning to spell will get some giggles from the re-arranged words, set engagingly within author Herman's jaunty rhymes, with the help of noted artist Matthew Cordell's comic critter characters. Cow finally finagles to help Moose get himself together and restores everyone to their proper orthography--except for the unfortunate Goat, who is still finding it a bit discombobulating being a Boat!

This book has plenty of play with words for primary grade free reading or for readalouds. Says Kirkus Reviews, "All ends happily. Hermann's fast-paced romp will likely leave readers laughing and spelling along. Cordell's illustrations, rendered in pen and ink and watercolor, match the kinetic pace of the tale. His animals are loosely drawn and delightfully expressive."

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Wolf Within: Moon by Alison Oliver

Moon is a very busy girl. Her daily to-do list is daunting.

STUFF TO DO
  • homework
  • clean my room
  • soccer practice
  • trumpet lesson
  • math tutor
  • stuff and more stuff
  • blah, blah, blah

Moon is dutiful and does it all. But she can't help wishing she didn't have to. She wonders what it would be like to leave all that behind.

One night she wanders out into the garden and in awe watches a shooting star. The star is a catalyst that sends her into the woods, barefoot, in search of something, something else stirring in the dark.

Paw prints! Wild.

Following the prints she finds a friendly gray wolf who takes her up upon his back and flies into the Great Forest, where in a clearing Moon is greeted by the whole pack.

She asked them to show her the wolfy ways.

Moon learns to pounce and play, and how to howl at the moon. And especially she learns the skill of being still and listening. Wearing a crown of flowers, Moon feels happy in the wild and at one with the forest. But the enchantment ends suddenly, as far away she hears a different sort of howl--her mother, looking for her.

So Moon goes back, back to her home and back to school the next day, but she's not the same. She still wears her emblematic garland and remembers the peace of being wild and wolfy, in Alison Oliver's forthcoming Moon (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018), and she secretly shares her experience with her friends.

The English poet William Wordsworth said it well long ago:

"The world is too much with us, late and soon.
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
Little we see in nature that is ours."


And author-illustrator Alison Oliver has the same advice--"Get out and get under the moon!" as she sets a trancelike scene for her fantastical tale of wilding oneself. Moon is purple with long, black hair, and there is a spare, dreamy look to Oliver's evocative illustrations executed in a palette of green, purple, black, and white with childlike images. This parable of finding the wild within. in which both sides of our human nature--the maker who uses nature and the spirit who seeks relief in nature, is made clear in simple words and images in this moving picture book.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Party with Penguins: Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

HARRIET LOVED COSTUMES!

It's not just that she's sometimes of a mind to climb in a costume for Halloween, or for a fun dress-up play date with a friend, or a special birthday bash.

HARRIET WORE COSTUMES ALL THE TIME.

That's right. Harriet dresses like a dragon for an appointment in the dentist's chair. At the park she's a fairy queen with a dark side, black bat wings.

But today is party day, and Harriet dons her all-purpose costume to run to the corner grocery for snacks. Disguised and decked out in a penguin suit with a red bowtie, she's just realized she forgot the party hats when she finds herself swept up by a passel of penguins--the real kind! Does Harriet need a permit for a penguin parade?

The press of penguins sweeps Harriet along. What about her party hats?

"WHERE ARE WE GOING?" SHE QUERIES.

Will Harriet be forced to march as an incognito penguin back to Antarctica? Not if she can hail a ride with a passing orca, in Jessie Sima's Harriet Gets Carried Away (Simon and Schuster, 2018). All's well that ends well, with an elaborate alfresco affair on the rooftop. But is that her friend Olivia in a wolf suit, followed by a pack of little howling wolves? Despite which diva has the, er, wildest costume, it's the party of the season with Harriet in charge, and with the help of the illustrations of clever cartoon drawings of Jessie Sima, it's a party no one will want to miss. Publishers Weeklycalls "Harriet's intrepid adventure a delightful readaloud."

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Taking the Plunge: Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

I'M GOING TO JUMP OFF THE DIVING BOARD TODAY," JABARI TOLD HIS DAD.

"REALLY?" SAID HIS DAD.

The weather is warm, and the pool is open. Jabari's passed his swimming test and he's got a new swimsuit and matching swim goggles.

He's ready to move on up to a new level. He's not scared.

But it's easy to say you're going jump off the high board when you're not there, looking up, up, up at that board. Way up there at the end of the diving board, even the big kids look very small. Jabari watches as they bounce a few times and dive off the board, hitting the water with a huge SPLASH!

It looks easy. But waiting in line at the bottom of the ladder, Jabari is uneasy. He gives the kid behind him a pass, telling him he needs to think about what dive to do. Then he begins the climb. The ladder is a lot taller than it looks.

"ARE YOU OKAY?" CALLED HIS DAD.

"I'M JUST A LITTLE TIRED," SAID JABARI.

Jabari is happy to take his dad's suggestion that he take a little rest. He comes up with another reason to come down--he forgot to stretch! Dad agrees that that's a good idea and suggests that tomorrow will be a good day to jump, too. But then he gives Jabari some advice.

"SOMETIMES WHEN I FEEL SCARED, I TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND TELL MYSELF I AM READY.

SOMETIMES IT STOPS FEELING SCARY AND STARTS TO FEEL LIKE A SURPRISE."

Jabari tries Dad's technique. He likes surprises, he thinks, and suddenly he feels ready to take the plunge. He begins to climb toward the top again.

JABARI STOOD UP STRAIGHT AND WALKED ALL THE WAY TO THE END OF THE BOARD.

And then, Jabari Jumpsin Gaia Cornwall's 2017 Candlewick Press story of a boy taking that leap of faith into his own future. There are many leaps forward in childhood, and author Cornwall's top-selling picture book sets the scene for one of those emblematic moments that almost all of us have at various times in life. "Nothing attempted, nothing done," says the old saying, and young readers will get it that Jabari's jump is something more than just a dunk in the neighborhood pool, but one that he will have the courage to make again and again in life.

Cornwall's soft and affectionate illustrations are perfect: her colors match the sun-sparkled aqua of a freshly painted pool on a June morning, and her use of various perspectives parallel the text as Jabari looks up, up, up the long ladder and down, down, down, past his toes curling around the end of the diving board to the water far below, where his dad and toddler sister, her little hands clinging tightly to dad's shoulder, watch his big moment. This is a little story that is in itself a parable of moving on up in life. Says Publishers Weekly, "It's a lovely, knowing account of a big 'first" in a child's life." And Kirkus Reviews quips, "This simple and sincere tale of working up courage to face fears makes quite a splash!"

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Gang's All Here: Llama, Llama and Friends created by Anna Dewdney

Llama's eyes pop open as the morning sun warms his face. He hops into his overalls and rushes downstairs.

Mama Llama needs his help!

Llama Llama has errands to do for Mama, and with his trusty Fuzzy Llama and Mama's list in the basket, he hops on his scooter and sets out.

And the gang's all there as he rolls along. He meets his woolly friend Euclid who helps him pick out some streamers.

Why does Mama Llama need them? he wonders.

It's off to Daddy Gnu's Bakery, where he stops to help little Nelly Gnu finish her mural and gets the cupcakes on his list. He passes Luna playing in the park and she helps pick the flowers on his list. He puffs up the hill, where he meets Gilroy Goat playing with his soccer ball, and while he stops to kick a few, his list blows away and he only catches up with it right at Gram and Grampa Llama's door, where they meet him with a stack of colored paper. It's quite a load, and Llama Llama wonders out loud what in the world Mama Llama is going to do with all the things on her list.

Youngsters will doubtless be in on the secret at this point, when Llama Llama arrives to find that he has the supplies for the big SURPRISE. Mama Llama and all his friends are there for the party, in Llama Llama and Friends (Penguin, 2017). Anna Dewdney's much-loved character Llama Llama has returned in this story illustrated by J. J. Harrison, to celebrate Little Llama's new video series by Netflix. Share this one with Cynthia Lord's Happy Birthday Hamster (Hot Rod Hamster) (see review here) and don't forget Llama Llama's companion book, Llama Llama and the Lucky Pajamas,

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Meet the Picklers: Road Trip with Max and His Mom by Linda Urban

On Monday morning after breakfast, Mom made an announcement. "We are going on an adventure."

Max was surprised. Mom was not the sort of mom who made announcements about adventures. She was the sort of mom who made announcements about laundry needing to be put away.

Max likes adventures. He's excited about his oral report on the South Pole explorer Earnest Shackleton whose ship was crushed in the Antarctic ice. He looks forward to weekends with his dad, when they go out and play spies in disguise.

But Mom's surprise sounds pretty adventurous. They're going all the way to Pennsylvania--a real road trip (across Ohio!) to a reunion of the Pickler family and Great-Great-Aunt Victory's 100th birthday. Max didn't even know he had a great-great aunt named Victory Pickler. But there it all was in the invitation:

VICTORY IS TURNING 100
Join us at her favorite spot in the world,
Bronco Burt's Wild Ride Amusement Park
for a day of ropin', ridin', and reminiscin'!

There's even a roller coaster called the Big Buckeroo! Max is not sure he's up to that whole adventure! Maybe he'd rather have a regular weekend at Dad's, having pancakes at their favorite cafe and walking Ms. Tibbet's basset hounds. But as he prepares for Biography Day and his report on the feats and discoveries of Shackleton, he tries to find his inner explorer with the courage of a Shackleton.

And at the family reunion, Max meets cousins in cowboy hats he didn't know he had and a lusty great-great aunt whose name really is Victory. He learns that his mother has had a whole other name; before she became his mother, Amy LeRoy, she was Amiable Pickler, fearless rider of roller coasters and horses and a beloved member of a big, adventurous family.

In her second book in series, Linda Urban's Road Trip with Max and His Mom (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), Max becomes an intrepid explorer, with both feats and discoveries of his own, as he sees another side of his mom and another side of himself as they share their adventure. Urban's beginning chapter book, illustrated with great good humor by Katie Kath, deals sensitively with a child balancing loyalties to two loving parents and realistically exploring who he is and how family life works itself out over the generations.

Urban's excellent first book in this series is Weekends with Max and His Dad (read review here)

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Curb Your Enthusiam! Lola Dutch by Kenneth Wright

THIS IS LOLA DUTCH.

LOLA DUTCH IS A LITTLE BIT MUCH.

Lola wakes up for the day with more ideas than she has daylight! But first, Bear points out, he needs a modest bite of breakfast.

... TEA AND TOAST?

Oh, no. Lola Dutch will settle for nothing less than a grandiose brunch. There's a rococo pot of hot cocoa with marshmallows, down-home grits and gravy for Gator, posh pastries for Pig, lacy crepes for Crane, and whipped cream for... whatever!

Does Lola overdo it? Yes! Even her cleanup with suds and mop is over the top!

Then she's off for the day's adventures. The library is just one of her stops. While Pig picks inventors and Crane cruises among the great writers, Lola Dutch discovers that she loves the Mona Lisa of Da Vinci and the water lilies of Monet, and all those other great paintings. She's got to stock up on art books and hurry home to create her own versions of the famed works of the Masters. With canvases prepped by Crane, pots of paint and bunches of brushes provided by Bear and Gator, Lola paints Michelangelo's Creation of Adam on her own ceiling.

VOILA!

BEAR SMILED. "LOLA DUTCH, YOU ARE JUST TOO MUCH!"

But even at the end of the day, bedtime is a big deal for Lola, in Kenneth Wright's tale of an over-the-top moppet, Lola Dutch (Bloomsbury Press, 2018). Some energetic youngsters don't know where to stop with their enthusiasms, and Lola Dutch is an object lesson in too much of a good thing, all handled with good-natured hyperbole by author Kenneth Wright. His partner in extravagant excess, artist Sarah Jane Wright, thoughtfully provides Lola Dutch with a sizable cleanup crew when too much disorder develops in her wake. After all, even Lola has to throw in the towel and call for a little help from her friends. With a lighthearted and lovely lesson is taking on too much, young readers will delight in Lola's joie de vive and all it brings, illustrated with elan' and a tasteful touch of art history. As Publishers Weekly says, "Sarah Jane Wright's gouache and watercolor pictures bring a chic elegance to each page."

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Red! The Story of a Mars Rover by Marcus Motum

Wherever you are in the world right now, I'm a very long way away.

Mars has always fascinated mankind. The ancients saw it as an oddity, a steady reddish glow amid the twinkling white lights of the stars. But armed with the early tool of the telescope. early astronomers discovered its planetary nature and named it for the bloody Roman god of war.

So close and yet so far, Earth's sister rocky planet was one of the first settinga for science fiction writers who imagined it populated by a variety of strange beings, and once man and lunar rovers left their tracks on the moon, Mars became the next low-hanging fruit in the solar system.

But Mars is a 350,000,000-mile journey away, too far and too harsh an environment for spacemen, so soon after the Lunar rovers proved useful, human scientists devised an alter ego to go to Mars, crafted with cameras for eyes and a robotic arm and hand that used man-made tools to collect samples, a built-in chem lab for analyzing soil and atmospheric samples, and tough all-terrain wheels upon which the robot could tootle around the planet's rocky surface. At last the curious world began to get some answers. Would it find the same sort of rocks as those on Earth? Would there be any evidence of water and life? And behind those is the big question:

"Is there anybody else out there?"

Conceived in 2007 and touching down on Mars in 2012, this robust, later-generation robotic rover was appropriately christened Curiosity. She has exceeded all expectations, landing softly and safely and immediately beginning to speak through its telemetry back to a curious Earth, where scientists waited to satisfy the world's curiosity about the possibility of a once life-sustaining atmosphere and whether there was and is still usable water present.

Marcus Motum's recent Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover (Candlewick Press, 2017) is a stunning introduction to the exploration of Mars for young readers. Curiosity was not the first Mars rover, but purpose-built to endure and explore these big questions, she is on the job still, providing data, clues to the history of Mars and the entire solar system in which we live. Author Marcus Motum provides an engaging rundown of Curiosity's mission in easily accessible language, and artist Motum portrays Curiosity charmingly, as a curiously anthropomorphic Victorian autonomous robotic carriage, humanity's largest eyes and hands on the Red Planet. Set in a powerfully drawn and vivid setting of rusty red rocks and rough terrain, Motum's autonomous rover Curiosity expresses the drive all-too-human drive to find out what, why, and when. Will Curiosity's tracks go down in space history with those footprints of Neil Armstrong on the moon?

For more about this doughty rover, NASA offers details about Curiosity's research into the big question: Did Mars once have a life-supporting ecology and did life once thrive there? (See details here.) For more about the decades-old exploration of Mars and the upcoming  May 18 launch of the In-Sight rover, see a brief history here and here.

Says Publishers Weekly in its starred review, "The books's large trim size and expansive scenes work in tandem to evoke the vastness of star-filled skies and reddish Martian landscapes."

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It's the Berries! Little Ree: Best Friends Forever by Ree Drummond

"I have a new friend. Her name is Hyacinth.

Hyacinth is the greatest! She's a country girl like me, and we like doing exactly the same things."

Playing dress up with a best friend is fun, but today the two farm girls are doing something new. Little Ree's grandmother has invited Hyacinth and her grandmother to come over and make pies. Little Ree rolls out the pastry dough, and Hyacinth gets busy cutting out cute animals from the scraps. There are plenty of fresh berries, so Ree and her friend decide to make their own pie, too.

Their first finished product looks a bit strange, but the two friends agree that for taste, their first pie is a success.

Grandma says someday we'll be champion pie makers.

I think we need more practice!

And when the two friends find out about the County Fair Pie Contest, the girls are inspired!

Hyacinth says there are lots of ripe berries to pick on the ranch, so with Hyacinth's lucky berry basket, the two girls set out across the pasture, with their pets Puggie the dog and Patches the cat riding shotgun. Hyacinth says she knows a way to find where the wild berries are:

"Look for critters!" she advises. "They love berries."

For a while the pickin's are slim. The only critter they see is a skunk! But then they spot Pepper the pony, grazing happily in a blueberry patch.

SHOO! Pepper! SHOO! Quail!

They fill their basket and hurry home to make their pie and pop it in the oven with Grandma's, while they design a fancy entry card. But the pie has so much juice that it runs out, all over the sides of the pie pan. It smells delicious but it looks messy! But Hyacinth has a plan. They moisten her cut-out pastry critter creations and stick them all around the sides of the pie. Voila'! Creativity!

Although Grandma's Banana Cream Bonanza takes first prize, Little Ree and Hyacinth's Berry Blast Surprise earns a red ribbon, in Ree Drummond's Little Ree: Best Friends Forever! (Harper, 2018). In this sequel to her first title, Little Ree (read review here) television's celebrated homey cook, The Pioneer Woman, is on track to provide an alternative rural version of Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy adventures with Nancy Clancy and best friend Bree, in Drummond's case done up with artist Jacqueline Rogers' jolly country-styled illustrations, with best friends forever and plenty of down-home family farm doings in store.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

WHATEVER! Neither by Arlie Anderson

ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WERE TWO KINDS-

THIS

AND THAT!

Bunnies were blue. They had long-ish ears, hoppity legs, and a round fluffy tail. They were THIS.

Chicks were yellow. They had wings, and long skinny legs with three toes, and no visible ears. They were THAT.

THIS and THAT were what there were. And that was that.

And then a stranger appears. He's green. He has bird-ish legs, a beak, and wings. But he has long ears and a poofy white tail.

WHAT ARE YOU?

I'M NEITHER!

The bunnies and the chicks agree that he's not one of them. Poor Neither tries to play with the bunnies, but his legs just don't hop high enough. He tries to peep and fly, but his poofy tail doesn't steer so well and his peep comes out as HONK! He's not either, or, or nor!

The bunnies and chicks strongly suggest that Neither needs to go...

SOMEWHERE ELSE!

Luckily, looking for the Land of Somewhere Else, little Neither finds a home in the LAND OF ALL, a place where kangucorns (kangaroos with unicorn horns) roam among flying lobsters, foxes with stripes, and purple cats with butterfly wings And soon the folks from the Land of This and That, unable to resolve their differences, find their way to the place for ALL, too, with room for...

THIS and THAT, SOMEWHAT and WHATNOT, EITHER, VERY, SORT OF, NEITHER and BOTH.

Vive la difference!

Arlie Anderson's little springtime story with a message, Neither (Little, Brown and Company, 2018), is a lighthearted fable that affirms that neither is not necessarily a negative, that "it takes all kinds to make a world." Her simple flat line drawings done in pastel palette make their point with gentle humor and great eye appeal for preschool and primary readers. Says School Library Journal, "This less-than-subtle tale of belonging hits all the right notes and is filled with fun fantastical creatures to boot. The last line sums it all up--"Once upon a time there were many kinds... and all were welcome!"

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Monday, April 09, 2018

Stayin' Alive! Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild by Catherine Thimmesh

Teeny-tiny panda cub Tao Tao--weigh in a approximately 4 ounces (1/900th the size of his mother)--was born in August of 2010, in a semi-wild training enclosure, delivered by his mama, Cao Cao, with no human intervention. Tao Tao was the first captive cub born naturally, just as he would have been in the wild, showcasing right from the git-go a significant change in the three-stage change training program.

Wild pandas are endangered, on the brink of extinction; in their natural range in China, only a tiny fraction of its original area remains because of encroachment of human activity which destroys their habitat. Despite their robust size, pandas don't have the resiliency of animals like raccoons, rabbits, and kangaroos, which adapt to living near humans easily. Pandas are big, required to eat eighteen hours a day to maintain their weight, but their diet is mostly limited to bamboo. Pandas reproduce infrequently, raising only one cub at a time, and cubs grow up slowly, requiring close care and teaching by their mothers for a couple of years. This lack of resiliency means that survival of their species now depends on reintroduction to the wild by cubs born in captivity, but even healthy cubs raised with the help of humans have had a hard time surviving in the wild.

"Reintroductions... are not guaranteed to work. But most of the time, the alternative of doing nothing means extinction."

But Cao Cao was lucky; he was one of the first cubs to be brought up only by his mother in a large protected area with minimal exposure to humans. For that, at Panda Camp the "counselors" get to play dress-up.

Now--as if it were Halloween or a day at a Disney theme park--the team don their panda suits whenever the enter the enclosure to deliver bamboo. Alas, they can't play with the huggable, lovable cub, not even when he becomes irresistible as he learns to run and roll about playfully. The caretakers weren't particularly comfortable in the heavy, hot panda suits. And they stank! Panda poo and pee were rubbed all over their fur so they'll smell like a panda."

With only about 1,864 pandas left in the wild, Cao Cao is an important graduate of Camp Panda. Not only is he part of the work to restore a healthy population of his species, but giant pandas themselves are an "umbrella species," one whose habitat preservation also works for other endangered animals, in the case of southeastern China, the snow leopard, the snub-nosed monkey, and the red panda.

Catherine Thimmesh's Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) offers students an engrossing study of how animal scientists work to save some of the planet's most important endangered species. Author Thimmesh, winner of the American Library Association's prestigious Sibert Award for informational books for young people, takes vicarious happy campers along to spend some time at Camp Panda as specialists from China and other nations work together to help preserve this signature animal, the giant panda, a worldwide symbol for the rescue of a threatened species.

Filled with charming color photos of this most appealing animal and written in an easy-going but informative style, with solid backmatter for the middle reader environmentalist--glossary, bibliography, and index--and with a useful section, "Stepping Up to Save a Species--What Can You Do?" this informal but informative book offers much for the curious animal lover and young research report writer alike.

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Sunday, April 08, 2018

"With A Happy Refrain:" Singin' in the Rain by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown

When April showers come your way, there's only one thing to say--

I'm singin' in the rain, just singin' in the rain.

What a glorious feeling, I'm happy again!

With the musical advice of the hit song from the 1920s by Art Freed and Nacio Herb Brown to the hit movie of the 1950s with Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, and Gene Kelley, the way to survive a rainy day is to make the best of it. Pull out the slickers and galoshes, open up those umbrellas, and splash through the puddles--singing that rainy day song that every kid should know. (see link below)

Tim Hopgood's joyfully illustrated new picture book, Singing in the Rain (Godwin Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2017), celebrates April showers with his exuberantly created pictures. After all, those splashy showers surely bring the flowers in May, as another old rainy day song suggests. Hopgood's kids dance down the street with overshoes on their feet, smiling and laughing as the grownups slog by, heads down... The bestg way to beat a rainy day is...

with a hap, hap, happy refrain!

"Movie happiness is now picture-book joy," says Kirkus Reviews in their starred review. And feel free to let the kids learn the song from the pros: Debby, Donald, and Gene!

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Saturday, April 07, 2018

Keep in Touch! Kittens and Friends (Touch and Feel) by Aimee Chapman, et al

What are kittens?

Bundles of fur...

Like to purr!

Before you get the kitten, get this book. Small kids who aren't used to pets need to learn the gentle touch for baby animals, and this little touch-and-feel board book is a good way to start.

Kitten and Friends Touch and Feel (Baby Touch and Feel) (Priddy Books/St. Martin'sPress, 2017) offers big color photos of real kittens, with a chance to learn a soft stroke with some touchable kitten fur and learn a little about what kittens do--explore--as they chase a rolling ball, pounce on toys, play in a basket, and push a yarn ball around. Not only is the kitty tangibly touchable--so are the rubber ball, the bumpy-woven basket, and the fuzzy ball of yarn--to point out a few of the tactile experiences or the very young. With a snugly kitten curling up on a soft rug, this one is even a fine bedtime book!

Pair this one with Dorling Kindersley's Baby Touch and Feel: Fluffy Animals (Baby Touch & Feel) for a bunch of adorable furry babies.

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Friday, April 06, 2018

Going Underground: Hiding by Henry Turner

I'm very good at hiding.

Real hiding happens when everybody can see you, but they don't notice you.

Danny is proud by his ability to disappear in plain sight. Teachers never notice him, even though he's right there in the middle of the class. He knows the answer, he's looking right at the teacher, but he's never called upon. He's the kid nobody quite seems to remember from elementary school. Nobody really sees him except his first girlfriend, Laura. But then she breaks up with him. Wandering the streets, he spots Laura with her family entering a funeral home.

I never meant to go to that funeral at all. My girlfriend Laura had just broken up with me. You get the idea.

Something awful had just happened. Laura had on this very sheer black dress. She looked beautiful, except her face. Her face looked terrible. She felt sad. I could tell.

All I did was dart across the street. Nobody really saw me. When everything was settled inside the funeral home, two men came out, smoking cigarettes. A kid had died. One of the men said he'd ridden his skateboard under a bus. I didn't really want to go to the burial, but I had to see Laura once again. I watched the burial, coming closer and closer. I slid ahead until I was standing two feet behind Laura.

Danny is still obsessed with Laura. Determined to understand why she broke up with him, he hides at night outside her house in her upscale neighborhood, totally unlike his own run-down side of town. Crouching in the shrubbery, he notices an open basement window and slips inside, and hiding in a storage room, he hears Laura's brother come down, close the window, and set the household alarm. Knowing he's trapped inside, Danny chooses to wait until everyone leaves the house in the morning to make a run for it.

But when everyone leaves the next morning, Danny decides to find out everything he can about Laura, to find something that will explain why she broke up with him. He reconnoiters through the lavishly decorated but strangely sterile house until he finds Laura's room. He discovers her hidden diary which reveals Laura's sadness over her inability to please her parents, even facing their disappointment that she didn't make the Olympic trials team.

And then he reads something startling about himself, something incredible but which explains everything, in Henry Turner's psychological thriller, Hiding (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018). Author Henry Turner spins out the suspense, gradually revealing much about Laura's life, but much more about how his protagonist comes to see his own life. Tightly drawn, this low-key but eerie study of a one boy's personality and his own fate will keep young adult readers wondering until the final revelation--and after.

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Thursday, April 05, 2018

Redress of Grievances: Class Action by Steven B. Frank

Sam is just finishing his worksheet on the Code of Hammurabi when his teacher calls for attention.

"I know you're all excited about the Columbus Day weekend. But," Mr. Powell says, "you'll be taking a practice CAASPP test next week, so I'm sending home a review packet." Mr. Powell goes around the room dropping these mega-packets on everyone's desk. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK.

I think about my dad sitting in his sixth-grade classroom. Back then kids hardly ever had homework. Soon as the bell rang they were free to have fun with their friends. Free to build treehouses with their dads. A tiny word forms in my mouth. Two letters. One syllable.

"
NO," I say.

Sam finds himself standing on his desk hold up a sign: HW, surrounded by a class of kids doing the same thing--on strike against excess homework.

Sam is suspended for three days and has to make up all the work he misses, but when his mom finds him brewing a pot of coffee at 2 a.m. with his older sister, also awake and doing homework in the wee hours, his parents get on board with his protest. Can a bunch of sixth graders possibly fight the Homework Establishment?

And when Sam thoughtfully picks up a newspaper mis-thrown in front of the house of the neighborhood curmudgeon, Mr. Kalman, he finds an unlikely advocate. Before he became a grouchy widower, Avi Kalman was actually a famous lawyer, who had even tried cases before the Supreme Court, and he surprisingly agrees to help Sam file a class action suit in the local courts to have the homework load lightened.

With his brilliant big sister, Sadie, her computer nerd boyfriend Sean, and an assortment of diversely-talented classmates, Sam finds himself and his team gaining popular support from parents and schoolkids all over the country, working their way through the U.S. federal court system, with a case called Warren v. Board of Education.

Ironically, Sam and his friends find themselves working harder than ever, digging out relevant cases and accumulating supportive precedents, and their appeal is accepted by the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco. As the anti-homework movement inspires nation-wide Mothers' Marches, the kids become close friends with the Bill of Rights, writs of certiorari, In Re Gault, Goss v. Lopez, Brown v. Board of Education, and the PocketJustice app.

They lose in the Ninth Circuit case, but the Supreme Court agrees to hear their case. At last the appellants are in place in the SCOTUS chamber. But their lawyer is missing.

"Oyez, Oyez, Oyez." says the marshal. "God save the United States and this Honorable Court!"

Chief Justice Reynolds looks at Sam. "Are you prepared to begin arguments in this case?"

"No, Sir," Sam says. "But my sister is."

An appeal to the Supreme Court is better than a packet of assignments on the Judicial Branch of the United States, and Steven B. Frank's just published Class Action (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) is a both a humorous middle school novel and a lively lesson in civil liberties, jurisprudence, and what happens when a sixth-grader exercises his First Amendment right to petition for redress of grievances. Real-life teacher Frank knows middle-school kids and how to bring social studies to life without worksheets but with plenty of insight into the way things work.

Not even Andrew Clements' terrific novels about school law--The Landry News, Lunch Money, Rise and Shine) and No Talking--have a character who has taken his case to the Supreme Court--with a little help from his friends, a marching mob of mothers, and country full of homework resisters ready to protest--all with a lot of fun and incidental learning along the way. Author of the acclaimed Armstrong and Charlie (read review here), Steven Frank has himself a humorous page-turning tale of civil disobedience and civil order that teaches more than a bunch of handouts on that third branch of the government.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Go For It! I Got It! by David Wiesner

Wish. Hope. Aspiration.

All that and more are in the opening pages of David Wiesner's newest, almost wordless, book, I Got It! (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). The frontispiece shows a boy in orange sneakers and baseball cap, with his fielder's glove on his left hand, wistfully watching from behind a chain-link fence as a group of guys and one girl gather to get up a game of baseball. The title page shows the boy inside the fence, hesitantly standing a few feet away from the others, socking one hand hopefully into the pocket of his glove.

It's the usual motley assortment for a sandlot game--a girl in a pink cap, a couple of blond kids who could be big and little brothers, a biracial kid and an Asian girl, a couple of bespectacled brothers who've brought the bats, and the tall kid who seems to be in charge, the requisite baseball in his hand.

The tall kid gives the kid with the glove the nod and points him toward the far outfield, where he waits for his chance to show what he can do. The bigger kid with glasses socks the first pitch. It's a fly ball rising high over the infield. The kid with the glove goes deep and calls it.

I GOT IT!!

It's a gutsy call and the kid goes for it, flat out.

And he falls flat, tripping on a root, as the ball comes down, just a couple of feet from his outstretched glove.

The other kids cover their eyes. SHEESH!

But the boy calls the next pop fly and again reaches for it, tripping on a root and slamming into a tree. He's not hurt, but his confidence is a bit shaken. The next ball hit high seems huge, filling the sky, and the other fielders go for it, all reaching for the ball; it seems like the whole team has called that ball. Has the kid got what it takes to snag it?

I GOT IT!

"Ah, but man's reach should exceed his grasp!" said poet Robert Browning, and that "go for it" feeling fills Wiesner's inspired picture book about making the big catch and making new friends.

The multiple Caldecott-winning David Weisner juggles both realism, in his real-kid illustrations of this pick-up team, and fantasy, as he imagines seems to flash through the space above as he goes for the ball. It's a little life lesson, as Wiesner's final illustration shows the boy's team, now waiting by the fence for their turn at bat, the new kid now sitting right in the middle of his teammates, ready to root for his side. Wiesner's exceptional illustrations, done with much detail, are still ambiguous enough to lend themselves to more than one understanding by the reader. And what's with that flock of birds that fill in most of the pages and who seem to be the boy's biggest fans? Wiesner always leaves the reader waiting for some ball or other to drop.

David Wiesner's Caldecott Award and Honor Medal books are Tuesday, Flotsam, The Three Pigs, Free Fall, Sector 7 (Caldecott Honor Book), and Mr. Wuffles! (Caldecott Medal - Honors Winning Title(s))

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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Now and Later: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Skinny picks
some other boy
to be on his team,

which is cool with me,
'cause I'd much rather be
at home lying across my bed
reading comics.

See you tomorrow, I yell
but he's already on the court

running a game
and his mouth.

Charlie Bell is taking the sudden death of his father hard. Even basketball is no fun. His dad loved the game and was good at it, but now it makes Charlie sad, and suddenly he's bad at it. His refuge is his superhero comics.

The Fantastic Four, the Black Panther,
use the TIME DILATION EFFECT
to freeze EVERYTHING
and move them back
in time.

I wish I could do
the same thing.

Charlie can't get with the time or get himself together. He's running late for school and decides it's easier to skip school. He heads off for the Quik Mart with Skinny and his troublemaker older cousin Ivan, and they decide to fund the trip by swiping some empty soft drink bottles off Old Lady Wheeler's porch to fund some snacks--Funyons and a box of Now and Later candy. Only that night Charlie's mom finds the wrappers in the trash he forgot to take out. She wakes him up early to hear his story.

Tell me the truth, or else!

Or else what? I say, wondering how that slipped out.
And wishing it hadn't.

Or else turns out to be summer vacation spent with his grandparents. Grandma's fried chicken could put KFC out of business, but Grandpa means business. As soon as dinner is over, he puts Charlie behind the push mower, following him around the yard, teaching technique and pointing out every sprig Charlies misses. This is just the first quarter. We're just getting started, Chuck, he says.

The newly christened Chuck is in for a bit of shaping up. The only answer Grandpa will take is "Yessir" and to add to Charlie's penance, his girl cousin Roxie, plays basketball way better than he does and is as hard a taskmaster on court as Grandpa is at home. Charlie takes refuge in a stack of his dad's old comic books and in the fact that he's beginning to make his foul shots and snag some rebounds in his games with Roxie. By midsummer, Charlie has become Chuck. He's master of the push mower and is getting close to beating Roxie at H.O.R.S.E.

But then he sneaks off from the family Fourth of July barbecue to meet Skinny at the Roller Skating Rink in town, where again Ivan leaves the two younger boys holding the bag, this one filled with marijuana. Skinny and Charlie are arrested, and Charlie has plenty of time to think about how he got there while he waits at the jail.

If I ever get out of here, I'm gonna do better, I promise, Charlie tells himself as he waits at the police station.

Charlie imagines the Black Panther breaking through the door to rescue him.

But it's Grandpa and his lawyer friend Smitty who come through the door tobail him out and take him home.

"I'll tell you again, Chuck." says Grandpa. "This is a team sport. You can surround yourself with people who don't play by the rules, or you can surround yourself with those who do. If you choose wrong, don't start complaining when the coach takes you out of the game.

We're all suffering, but we still here, Chuck."

Sometimes you win the game with a slam dunk, and sometimes what wins the game is a rebound, in Kwame Alexander's forthcoming Rebound (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), the prequel to the author's 2015 Newbery Award-winning The Crossover. (see review here).  In the summer of 1988 Charlie becomes Chuck Bell, Da Man, college superstar, coach, and father to the rival brothers Josh and Jordan Bell, who in their time will also suffer the sudden loss of their father, Chuck.

Writing in a form of blank verse, the winner of multiple awards, Kwame Alexander, again gets inside his thirteen-year-old character's heart and mind at a crucial time in his life, a time when, as he says, he finds his way out of a black hole and into a life in which in twenty years his twin sons will want to honor his memory. As in his first book, Alexander makes use of basketball as a metaphor for life, with his thirteen-year-old protagonist on the cusp between childhood and maturity, now and later, like his favorite candy, in which Charlie learns that even when you shoot and miss, you always try to rebound your own shot.

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