BooksForKidsBlog

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Trial by Multiple Choice: Bad Kitty Takes the Test by Nick Bruel

Good morning, Kitty!

Kitty is sleeping off a totally unprovoked attack by a flock of birds, resulting in an injurious fall from the tree, when she is awakened by her owner with an official letter from S.C.A.M, the Society of Cat Aptitude Management.

Who knew pussy cats had to pass an aptitude test?

Apparently, Bad Kitty has been recalled by the powers that be for being guilty of uncatlike behavior.

Your cat license has been REVOKED.

In order to renew your cat license, you have to take a special course on being a cat, followed by a TEST.

Bad Kitty is incensed, but the next morning she finds herself in class, at a desk, along with her associate Chatty Kitty, one very odd kitty who looks like a chicken with clip-on cat ears, and another less-than-catlike student, Uncle Murray, who thinks he at the Driver's License Division for a simple license renewal.

And Bad Kitty's instructor is none other than Strange Kitty, with his usual top hat, rep tie, and erudite manner.

Bad Kitty knows how to deal with this situation. She promptly falls asleep.

She doesn't miss much. Strange Kitty rolls in the A-V cart with TV set and an up-to-date playback device known as a VCR, and starts an instructional video, "Our Friend The Cat," a ProTest, er, TestPro Production, starring their ever-popular avuncular host, Uncle Barney.

Then comes the multiple choice pre-pre-pre-pre, etc., test, proctored by a supervisor who also looks suspiciously like a graduate of ProTest, er, TestPro's Poultry Policing Department.

"Maybe we should get started," said Strange Kitty.

The ProTest, er, TestPro's procter replies in multiple-choice format:

A) Gosh! You think?
B) DUH!
C) What a brilliant idea.
D) All of the above.

Answer: D

Will Bad Kitty make the grade or be a feline failure? Of course, between catnaps Bad Kitty craftily analyzes her test and comes up with egg-zactly what the test demands, in Nick Bruel's latest beginning chapter book, Bad Kitty Takes the Test (Square Fish, 2017). Author Bruel and his oddball cartoon cats poke zany fun at multiple-choice testing and chickens, and Bruel even appends "A Final Note" which quotes Strange Kitty's tips on test taking, as well as a scintillating interview of the author-illustrator by none other than Uncle Murray. And isn't that worth a passing grade?

A) True
B) False
C) Who cares? Cats are a blight on society and the world would be better off without them.
D) Chickens rule.

Other killer-diller Bad Kitty beginning chapter books include Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble, Bad Kitty Gets a Bath, Bad Kitty Goes to the Vet, and Bad Kitty School Daze.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

That's Abe! Long, Tall Lincoln by Jennifer Dussling

Abraham Lincoln said of himself: "I am not a pretty man."

When accused by a partisan of being two-faced, the lanky, craggy-faced president joked, "If I had two faces, do you think I'd be wearing this one?"

Jennifer Dussling's new Long, Tall Lincoln (I Can Read Level 2) (Harper, 2017) makes the most of Abe Lincoln's colorful boyhood adventures to appeal to young readers, as well as the true story of a poor boy who, despite only a few months of schoolroom time per year, read any book he could get his hands on, not an easy thing in frontier Kentucky and Illinois.

The boy Lincoln was drawn to language, mimicking "stump speakers" who passed through the countryside. He even managed to educate himself far beyond the average child, even "reading law" in an attorney's office to become a lawyer himself, and an honest one to boot, living up to the story that he walked miles to reimburse a woman he'd overcharged as a store clerk.

Author Dussling not only portrays something of Lincoln's growing-up years, but also describes his affection for his young boys, along with their pets and rowdy ways, giving young readers an idea of what being a child their age must have been like in the White House in the sober days of the Civil War. She even includes the letter from a young follower named Grace, whose suggestions for Lincoln led him to grow his beard, advising "All the ladies love whiskers."

In those years Lincoln dealt daily with war planning and what to do about slaves in the Southern states, resulting in the Emancipation Proclamation, of which he said,

"If my name goes into history, it will be for this act.

This one in Harper's 60-year-old I-Can-Read series is great for primary-grade classroom libraries and for those customary February Presidents Day book reports--inexpensive, packed with facts and humorous tales of the young Abe Lincoln and the president who always had time for his harum-scarum boys, and with lots of details, including period photos and a Lincoln timeline for young independent readers in search of actual historic information for those reports, speeches, and costumed parades built around the civil holiday.

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Unthinking It: Don't Think About Purple Elephants by Susan Whelan

Sometimes Sophie worried.

She didn't worry on weekdays when she went to school and played with her friends.

Sophie is a part-time worrier. The problem is--she worries about things at night when she (and everyone else) are supposed to be sleeping.

At bedtime when everything was quiet and still and there were no games to play and lessons to learn, Sophie started to worry.

It's a common human problem, not limited to anxious little girls. Thoughts that go bump in the night or things that might happen tend to take over all of our brains in the still of the night.

Sophie anguishes over all the little what ifs of her life--what if she forgets her lunchbox or Mum makes Brussels sprouts for dinner and actually insists she eat them?

Her family tried to help.

Her brother Oliver loans her a thrilling book to read in bed, but the cover illustration gives her the worrisome willies. Dad offers hot milk with honey at bedtime, but soon Sophie is fretting about wetting the bed!

Finally Mum comes up with an intriguing suggestion.

Close you eyes and... don't think about purple elephants.

Sophie tries not to think about cute little purple elephants, clever purple elephants doing circus tricks, plushy little purple elephant toys.... but when it comes right down to it....

It's really hard NOT to think about purple elephants.

But, funny thing... Sophie finds that when she thinks about nothing but purple elephants, she slips right off to sleep, in Susan Whelan's Don't Think About Purple Elephants (EK Books, 2017 Am. ed.), in a charming little bedtime story craftily crafted for the child insomniac. Artist Gwynneth Jones adds to the fun with a passel of watercolored purple pachyderms that cavort through Sophie's dreams. Pair this one with Lemony Snicket's clever tale of the dark at the foot of the stairs, The Dark (Bccb Blue Ribbon Picture Book Awards (Awards)) (read review here.)

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

This Is Your Life, Pete the Cat: Meet Pete by James Dean

PETE LOVES TO PLAY WITH HIS FRIENDS AND TRY NEW THINGS.

Pete is a groovy cat who needs no introduction to most kids. But for those tykes just being introduced to books, his creator, James Dean, has provided him with a vita of his own, a brand-new tabbed board book, Pete the Cat: Meet Pete (Harper Festival, 2017).

With tabs at the top and right side of this sturdy board book, young readers can access thumbnail pictures and descriptions of Pete and his besties--Bob, his brother, who teaches Pete what he needs to know; Pete's Mom and Dad, who are far-out parents who drive him to lessons and teach him new stuff to do; Callie, the nicest cat around, Emma, a dandy dog who plays catch with Pete; Grumpy Toad, who hits the road on his monster cycle; Gus, Pete's shy but persistent percussionist, and Marty the Monkey, who take care of the necessary silliness for the group.

For tots who are likely to need a cast of characters before tackling the many adventures of Pete The Cat, this little board book is a handy guide, not only to all things Pete, but also as an introduction to the concept of the table of contents for any book, a nice gift for the youngest Pete fans!

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Friday, January 19, 2018

North Pole or Bust! Chicken in Mittens by Adam Lehrhaupt

Zoey stepped out of the barn. So did her best pig, Sam.

Fresh snow covered the farm.

"We can be EXPLORERS!" said Zoey.

"It's cold!" said Sam

"ARCTIC Explorers! said Zoey.

Zoey and Sam share a pair of mittens--one on each of their heads.

With their skis on their feet and their mitten on their heads, Sam and Zoey set out. They have two objectives: reach the North Pole and find a Yeti!

Zoey and Sam are full of zeal until they come to a barbed wire fence. They can't climb over it on their skis. Perhaps they can go under it?

It takes a lot of wiggling from Zoey and waggling from Sam, but finally they leave the fence behind and approach the mountain. Sam and Zoey are now stalwart mountain climbers.

But what goes up must come down, and the two Arctic explorers become downhill sliders--way downhill!

"NOW I'm cold," said Sam.

But Zoey zooms toward a strange, shaggy, snowy figure. Could he be their Yeti? She asked directions to the North Pole but when the figure remains silent, she gives him a sturdy tap. The snow slides off to reveal a shabby scarecrow on a tall pole. Oh, well. Maybe this is the NORTH POLE, then.

Sam suggests they call it a successful expedition to the polar region (well, sort of) and head for home, in the newest beginning reader in the series by Adam Lehrhaupt,Chicken in Mittens (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper, 2017), featuring his hearty partners Zoey and Sam who include young independent readers in their reading adventures. Other books in this new one in Harper's celebrated sixtieth year of I-Can-Read series by author Lehrhaupt and artist Shahar Koban are Chicken in Space (see review here), and Chicken in School.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Long and Short of It: Me Tall, You Small by Lilli L'Arronge

YOU SHOUT

ME SHUSH

Lilli L'Arronge's delightful little treatise on parent-and-child doings, Me Tall, You Small (Owlkids Books, 2017) plays with the contrast between adult and child in daily life. One is tall and the other is not, but one has a bit more energy than the other, especially on a camping trip where Tall carries Small (and their gear) up a considerable mountain.

ME TIRED

YOU WIRED

Tall gets soaked while Small rides in cozy comfort in his little bike trailer. Small refuses to take NO! for answer where a can of cookies is at stake, and when Tall tries sneakily to put the cookies too high for Small, the smarter little one takes over, stacking a cart, table, and trash can up so that he can be reach as high as tall, too.

Terrifically translated from the French by Madeleine Stratford, author-illustrator L'Arronge depicts two charming, cozy, cuddly, but non-specific animals as stand-ins for human parents and children, in a sweet and funny treatise, playing with comparisons, that show the many ways parent and child share the joy of being together, eating ice cream, snuggling in bed, bandaging boo-boos, and sharing splashing in puddles, chomping sausages, and just sheer silliness in quiet times and joyfully rowdy times.

YOU WHOOP

I DROOP

"Being winsome without being wince-inducing is no easy task, and this playful, tender book may inspire real-life parent-child pairs to come up with some me-vs.-you comparisons of their own," says Booklist.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

To Market, To Market! Clark The Shark Lost And Found by Bruce Hale

"Today is our field trip to the Farmers' Market," announced Mrs. Inkydink to the class.

"WOOHOO!" shouted Clark the Shark. "I've never seen a farmers' market!"

It's field trip time, and all the ebullient Clark can think about is the fun he's going to have with his friend Joey Mackerel.

Mrs. Inkydink, on the other hand, knows all the things that can go wrong on a field trip with her class of little golliwogs, so she launches into her Rules for A Field Trip lecture.

1. Hold hands with your partner!
2. Follow all directions!
3. Keep to your inside voices!

Of course, Clark the Shark is not listening. In fact he's busy telling Joey that a field trip means It's Playtime!

Right off the bus, Clark charges forward, with Joey at his tailfin, trying to keep up, as they swim toward the food vendors.

"LOOK at the food! YUM!"

The farmers' market is like a great big theme park to Clark and he dashes into the action, stuffing his toothy face, juggling goodies, dancing his funky shark dance, and swimming too fast for even the loyal Joey to keep up. It's a fine and fishy fun field trip. Until... Clark stops to look around.

Their class was out of sight!

He can't even see Joey! Clark The Shark is lost! Now he wishes he'd been listening to Mrs. Inkydink.

Is Clark the Shark lost at sea? In Bruce Hale's Clark the Shark: Lost and Found (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper, 2016), young readers will giggle at Clark's attempts to dredge his teacher's words out of his easily-distracted brain. Luckily, Mrs. Inkydink is on the job and all's well, with Clark (perhaps) learning his lesson for the day.

Author Hale handles his hyper Clark The Shark well by this point in the series, and perhaps young readers will get the message that there are times when it's really important to pay attention to the instructions. Illustrator Guy Frances adds plenty of underwater humor to the setting, and the two creators even add an appendix to this Level One I-Can-Read title, "Clark The Shark's Bite-Sized Facts" about (what else?) sharks!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Corps de Ballet? Dance Is For Everyone by Andrea Zuill

Mrs. Iraina and her ballerinas were surprised.

There was a new student in their dance class

They decided it was okay for her to join.

Besides, who would be brave enough to tell a 450-pound alligator she couldn't?

The big green 'gator seems to be able to follow all the moves, so Mrs. Iraina carries on with class, making a mental note to stock up on alligator snacks to keep her little dancers safe. They name the alligator Tanya.

There was one hazard, though.

Tanya didn't seem to know what was going on with her tail!

Ballet teachers have to be creative with the dancers they have, and for their recital Mrs. Iraina and her little ballerinas come up with a novel production with a setting which is, er, suited to Tanya's talents--"The Legend of the Swamp Queen," with the kids in animal outfits and you-know-who dancing the title role!

The audience is enthralled with the star ballerina--so strong and so fully immersed in her role!

And what an unbelievably realistic costume!

It's a hit, in Andrea Zuill's Dance Is for Everyone (Sterling Books, 2017). There are plenty of giggles as the little dancers gawk at their big green classmate and try not to trip on her tail, and author-illustrator Zuill provides plenty of sight gags as Tanya trips the not-so-light fantastic to extend the humor of this tale. Says School Library Journal, "The illustrations are quirky and the plot is engaging, with jokes adults will appreciate peppered throughout. The narrative coveys the story's message of inclusion in a subtle manner, but the book's title makes this important theme abundantly clear."

For a further taste of Zuill's comic picture book talents, see her delightful walk on the wild side with a trio of pampered pooches, in Wolf Camp (read review here).

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Rapping in the Stacks! Rappy Goes to the Library by Dan Gutman

I'M RAPPY THE RAPTOR
AND I'D LIKE TO SAY
I MAY NOT TALK
IN THE USUAL WAY!

It's field trip time, and Mrs. Hoopenlooper (a huge and terrifying creature, according to Rappy) is prepping her rowdy class for a visit to the library. She especially warns Rappy, who is prone to break into an impromptu rap at odd times, that she expects him to keep quiet. It's a tall order, but Rappy wants to please Mrs. H. However, when he bursts into a totally, er, fictionalized rap version of their bus trip, Mrs. Higgenlooper has to quash his recital. Okay...

THERE WAS NO TRAIN OR JET OR FERRY.

WE JUST WENT TO... THE LIBRARY!

Hoopenlooper calls for nothing but "inside voices," and Mrs. Darian the Librarian takes over, guiding them through the collection and to the desk to get their very own library cards.

OH, SO HAPPY!

AND ON THE FRONT...
MY NAME--RAPPY!

But next comes the many-floor tour, which Rappy's class finds quite a snore. But Rappy feels sorry for Darian the Librarian, whose act is clearly bombing. She's losing her audience fast. Can Rappy come up with a rap to save the act and the field trip?

With author Dan Gutman coming up with the dialog, Rappy's soon rockin' the stacks, in Gutman's latest I-Can-Read Level 2 title, Rappy Goes to the Library (I Can Read Level 2) (Harper, 2017). Gutman, the best-selling creator of the My Weird School series, is right at home in the classroom scene, and gives Rappy a chance to rhyme "scary" with "little house on the prairie," to become the book guy of the year. Other Rappy the Raptor stories for the grades 1 and 2  readers are Rappy the Raptor, Rappy Goes to the Supermarket (I Can Read Level 2), and Rappy Goes to School.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Boning Up On Bees: Amazing Bees by Sue Unstead

Bees are amazing. They help flowers make fruits and seeds, and they give us sweet honey.

So let's find out what makes bees so special!

As familiar as the cheery little blossom buzzers are in poem and story and in our gardens, bees themselves are as strange as any sci-fi aliens. Like all insects, they have segmented bodies with three discrete parts and six legs. They have strong wings and sensitive antennae which they use to communicate.They have two great big compound eyes, and three little ones for close work. Their bodies are very hairy, and bees' knees are all they're cracked up to be, with little pockets for that all-important pollen collection.

Sue Unstead's fact-filled but easy-reading DK Readers L2: Amazing Bees (Dorling Kindersley, 2017), offers a wide range of bee lore, from their lives from eggs to larvae to pupae to bees. Until they hatch as adults, "baby" bees in all their stages require wax cells as nurseries and much regular care from the grown-ups. When they finally emerge from the early stages, there are three main types of adults--the one-and-only queen of each hive, the drones, and the workers, but workers may be pollen and nectar collectors, or they may be baby tenders, armed guards, and maintenance workers back at the hive. Bees are indeed social insects and live in a unique society.

In addition to life in the hive, author Unstead covers many of the important aspects of bee society, such as bee communications ("dancing" and "waggling"), bee senses (bees see flowers in different colors from human eyes), bee business--collecting nectar and pollen to feed the hive and store as honey and incidentally pollinating the plants that we humans depend on for our own food, fuel, and shelter. Unstead even goes into bees other than the popular honeybee, from bumblebees to several species of smaller bees who make no honey but also serve as miniature pollinators; and she also presents those curious bees that eschew hives, building nests from soil and grass, carefully cut leaves, and those opportunists who make do with holes in trees, fallen branches, and in the ground. Illustrated by Dorling Kindersley's trademark up-close color photographs, this level two book is accessible to most primary-grade readers, and its use as a nature science book is bolstered by a self-quiz for students and an excellent glossary of terms, all of which can help any kid to BE a bee specialist!

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

It's A GO! Dig Dig Digging ABC by Margaret Mayo

A IS FOR AMBULANCE,

BUSY, BUSY AMBULANCE.

RUSH, RUSH, RUSH!

WHEE-OW, WHEE-OW!

For a certain contingent of kids, big machines are fascinating. Things that dig and float and fly with verve are their favorite things, and Margaret Mayo's Dig Dig Digging ABC (Henry Holt and Company, 2017), all the big boys are there--bulldozers, cranes, diggers, express trains, fire engines--all the favorites are up front to teach the alphabet.

J IS FOR JUMBO JET,

ROARING, SOARING!

Some of the things that go are not those usually seen in alphabet books--kayaks, scooters, windsurfing boards, and velodrome racing bikes-- but all are pictured in action, with onomatopoeic sounds to distinguish them--whooshing, cruising, bumping, whizzing, humming--full of life and action, in a a boardbook that delivers the alphabet with jolly illustrations by artist Alex Ayliffe that give it plenty of go-power.

For kids who just can't get enough of things that go VROOOM, ZOOOM, and RROOOM, here's one just loaded with sound effects and movement.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Together Forever? Ella Bella Ballerina and the Magic Toyshop by James Mayhew

Ella Bella danced along the street to her ballet lesson. Her teacher, Madame Rosa, was waiting by the door of the old theater.

The other little dancers are already on the stage, whispering excitedly at the sight of Madam Rosa's magical musical box, surrounded by a number of beautiful dolls.

"May we play with them?" asked Ella Bella.

"Why not dance with them?" said Madame Rosa as she opened the music box.

Madame Rosa tells her little ballerinas the story of La Boutique Fantastique, The Magical Toyshop, presided over by a kindly toymaker, and Ella is enchanted by the dancing dolls.

When the lesson ends, Madame Rosa invites Ella Bella to stay and help her tidy up, and as they do, she tells Ella the story of each dancing doll. Ella is especially drawn to two beautiful dolls who dance to the music box as if they were made to be together.

But just then customers come in and begin to look among the music box dolls. One family picks one of the dolls, and another snatches up the other doll. Both families get very angry. No one can buy them both!

But Ella notices that the two dancing dolls look very sad.

"They are very much in love!" she cried. "It would break their hearts to be parted!"

Can Ella Bella Ballerina save the dancing dolls from being separated forever? In James Mayhew's latest in series, Ella Bella Ballerina and The Magic Toyshop (Ella Bella Ballerina Series) (Barrons, 2017), Ella Bella gets some help from toyshop magic in a fanciful story that will please both young doll lovers and balletomaines, illustrated with the author's delicate frou-frou scenes that fit this charming story right down to the dancing French poodles. Appended is an English retelling of the original story of La Boutique Fantastique.

This story pairs well with James Mayhew's popular Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker (Ella Bella Ballerina Series). (see review here.)

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Signing Up! ABC for Me: Baby Signs by Christine Engel

Follow us through the alphabet and learn to use twenty-six essential phrases in baby sign language--a fun way to communicate with baby long before they can talk.

It's an engaging premise and promise that infants can learn to understand and, as coordination develops, to communicate in sign language before they are able to form the words with which they will speak. Christine Engel's ABC for Me: ABC Baby Signs: Learn baby sign language while you practice your ABCs! (Walter Foster/Quarto, 2017) offers parents a chance to give teaching babies sign language a try.

Experienced parents know that infants gesture before they can speak, and most parents quickly learn to recognize those little arms reaching up in the "pick-me-up" position or the "I want THAT!" gesture. Experiments have shown that babies can recognize hand signs and begin to make them before they can produce speech. Engel's little board book offers illustrations of basic signs--ALL DONE, EAT, GO!, HELP, MORE, NO, PLEASE, UP, PLEASE, READ, and even I LOVE YOU!--with verbal directions and conventional diagrams as well as illustrations of endearing infants to ensure consistency with each sign. The author also arranges the twenty-six signs in alphabetical order, with explanations in rhythm and rhyme to reinforce language development.  And who wouldn't want to have a baby who knows how to follow the familiar Shhhh! gesture for QUIET sometimes?

WANT A BITE TO EAT?

MOVE YOUR HAND TO YOUR MOUTH,
AND YOU'LL GET A TREAT!

Engel's illustrations are charming, and, since they mimic common adult gestures, are easy to remember. The signs included cover most of the necessary communications, even one for "time for a diaper change!" She suggests, but does not emphasize, that such signs should be used along with spoken language, not as a substitute for speech. It's a fun book to read aloud and to begin communication with your baby.

Other books in the series by Christine Foster are ABC for Me: ABC Love: An endearing twist on learning your ABCs!, and ABC for Me: ABC Yoga:. Join us and the animals out in nature and learn some yoga!

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Getting It Together: After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat

HIGH UP ON THIS WALL!

I KNOW, IT'S AN ODD PLACE FOR A EGG TO BE, BUT I LOVED BEING CLOSE TO THE BIRDS.

Humpty Dumpty knows that he has a fragile physicality, being an egg and all, but up there, in the air, close to his beloved birds, is where he wants to be.

BUT THEN ONE DAY, I FELL.

(I'M SORT OF FAMOUS FOR THAT PART.)

The Great Fall changes Humpty's life drastically. He takes a new job as a grocery store clerk, but he's so afraid of heights that even stocking the top shelves is scary. Walking by that wall on the way to work every day reminds him of what happened. He's definitely suffering from post-traumatic fall syndrome.

But the worst part is that he has to watch the birds from the ground, flat-footed. The birds soar high above, flitting happily from steeple to tower. Watching from below is not the same as being up there among them. Life on the ground is getting Humpty Dumpty down.

THEN ONE DAY AN IDEA FLOATED BY.

Actually, it was a paper airplane that floated by, but the idea of controlled flight lifts Humpty's hopes. Perhaps he can build a device that will allow him to rejoin the birds in the air. He builds several flying machines, but it seems that what goes up still comes down. It's a definite downer. And there is definitely a certain gravity in that realization. Humpty realizes that there is no easy way out of his dilemma.

It's time for Plan B.

Humpty starts to climb that wall. He's terrified. Totally. He knows that he's best known for falling. But then...

He thinks of all the things he's been missing, and he keeps on climbing.

HOPEFULLY YOU'LL REMEMBER ME AS THE EGG WHO GOT BACK UP....

There are second acts in children's literature, in Dan Santat's new picture book parable on the importance of getting-back-on-the bike-type courage, After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) (Roaring Brook, 2017), shows. Santat, the Caldecott Award winning author-illustrator (for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend(see review here) is brave enough to use even the famed nursery rhyme crackup Humpty Dumpty as his doughty hero in this sweet little story of second chances in life. Even Santat's endpapers are clever, showing the iconic fish out of water trying to adapt. A funny and meaningful tale of how it's never too late to re-imagine yourself.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Wonderful Wild Kitty! Moto and Me: My Year As a Wildcat's Foster Mom by Suzu Eszterhas

As a child, I used to tell my mom that one day I would live in a tent in Africa. So it was a dream come true when I headed to the Masai Mara, a wildlife reserve in Kenya, to photograph animals.

Suzi Eszterhas found her dream up close and personal, living with all kinds of wildlife--elephants, hippos, lions, and giraffes--just outside her tent flap, just as she'd hoped. But she never expected to mother a wildcat, Africa's amazing serval cat.

Only two weeks old, little Moto found himself left alone on a road in Kenya as his mother was trying to move her litter away from a grass fire, and Suzi volunteered to be Moto's foster mom.

Anyone who has fostered domestic kittens knows that it is a big job. Kittens cry just like human babies and must be fed every few hours. They require washing and stroking similar to that of their mothers to survive. Moto especially loved being cleaned with an old brush, rough like his mother's tongue. Suzi bottle-fed him a formula of milk, fish oil, eggs, and vitamins day and night. She was busy, but Moto thrived, and soon he was purring when Suzi held him.

Like regular domestic cats, serval kittens play with toys, and Suzi gave Moto a plush duck named Mr. Ducky. He slept with it, purred for it, but as he grew, he pounced on it, wrestled with it, and carried it around in his mouth. By the time he was one month old, he was ready to explore outside. Moto also learned to enjoy rides in Suzi's jeep, watching the other animals from behind the safety of the glass windows.

Moto was shy but curious. He smelled the grass, listened to the birdcalls, and watched everything with big, wide-open eyes. The first times, we wold walk only a few feet before Moto retreated back into the tent, exhausted by his big adventure. If a noise frightened him or he lost sight of me, Moto would call out. His call was like a short, loud meow. I'd return his call by saying, "Moto," and he would call back. Hearing Moto call for me felt good. I knew I was creating a strong bond with him.

But Suzi was a working photographer, so she fashioned a cloth pouch so that she could carry him around as she shot photos outside. At first he slept, but soon the curious kitten learned to poke his head out and see what "Mom" was doing, and it was not long before he began to explore the world outside the tent. Suzi introduced pureed chicken to his formula and then began to introduce solid food to little Moto. It was a big event when he was fed his first mouse, and in a few weeks, he was learning to catch his own dinner. Suzi even helped him learn to catch fish.

To become a hunter, Moto had to explore the bush. Sometimes he would disappear for hours. He roamed freely around camp, practicing stalking, running, pouncing. Learning how to hunt was a huge step in being able to take care of himself. I was very proud.

Moto also had to learn to protect himself, mostly from the larger predators--leopards, lions, wild dogs--in the bush, and he learned to hide invisibly, his spotted gold coat camouflaging him in the tall grass, and to climb high beyond reach in the trees with his now long and powerful claws.

By the time Moto was eight months old, he was nearly the size of an adult serval. Like a wild serval, Moto was active at dawn, dusk, and nighttime and slept most of the day. Moto didn't need much from me anymore.

Despite their familiar kittenish look as babies, an adult serval cat is an impressive animal, weighing up to forty pounds, able to run like a cheetah and use their unusually long hind legs to leap eight feet straight up to capture birds on the wing. Suzi gradually saw less and less of Moto, and she was both sad and glad that he was now independent.

Eszterhas' Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat's Foster Mom (Owlkids Books, 2017) is a true story of that will fascinate young readers who may themselves dream of studying wildlife one day. Illustrated lavishly with the author's own photographs, this slim book gives middle readers much information (including an appendix, All About Servals) and what's more, a satisfying vicarious experience of raising a wildcat kitten and watching him return successfully to the wild. Fans of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Scientists in the Field series and National Geographics' Baby Animal series will find this new one from Owlkids Books a welcome addition to their nature reading. For kids who love animals, share this one with Owlkids' wonderful Koala Hospital (Wildlife Rescue) (see review here.)

Says Booklist, "Photos of Moto, both as a fluffy-faced baby and an active, handsome adult, are the clear scene-stealers, but plenty of interesting facts on servals are included. More than one reader will consider following Eszterhas' footsteps."

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Monday, January 08, 2018

A Bear Where? The New LiBEARian by Alison Donald

THE CHILDREN WERE READY.

JACK LOOKED AROUND. "OUR LIBRARIAN ISN'T HERE," HE SAID.

"MS. MERRYWEATHER IS NEVER LATE," SAID KENZIE.

"LET'S GO FIND HER!" SAID DEE.

The proactive preschoolers set out to solve the mystery of their missing library storyteller. They know good sleuths look for footprints and Dee spots some right away.

"THEY'RE PAW PRINTS!" DEE DECLARED.

The kids trek along the trail of tracks past stacks which offer galaxies, pirate ships, and aircraft. But when they come to Ms. Merryweather's own desk, they find even more quirky clues. Her desk is sticky, with a tell-tale pot of spilled honey and some seriously shredded pages scattered about. And what they see confirms their case!

A NEW LIBRARIAN!

Their new librarian is A LiBEARian! He's wearing a LIBRARIAN nametag taped to his fur.

WHERE'S MS. MERRYWEATHER?" DEE ASKED.

The liBEARian shrugs and when the kids ask for a story of the usual sort--princesses, dragons, pirates--he yawns, but when Dee asks for a scary story, he nods and launches into a rip-roaring and growling reading of a bear book. The kids are loving the sound effects when one hears the sound of grownup footsteps approaching.

It's the missing Ms. Merryweather, apologizing profusely. It seems she has had to deal with a little problem with a volcanic eruption, presumably in Pompeii among the Ancient History stacks. Quickly, she opens her copy of The Three Bears and launches into the familiar opening about Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and... Whoa! Wait!--

Now Baby Bear is missing--right from his place in the middle of the illustration between the bemused parent bears. But Ms. Merryweather is on to her missing character's tricks.

"I KNOW YOU'RE HIDING, BABY BEAR," MS. MERRYWEATHER SAID.

Looking as sheepish as a little bear can look, Baby Bear takes his proper place on page. Swiftly turning to the next spread as only an experienced librarian can do to hold her audience's attention, Ms. Merryweather speeds through the familiar porridge problem until it's time for a pivotal piece of plot development. Dramatically, she makes the page turn that presents the tale's protagonist, but--

What's sauce for Baby Bear is sauce for Goldilocks, and youngsters will swiftly spot the missing heroine--seated in the on-page story circle and giving her readers outside the book a conspiratorial wink, in Alison Donald's The New LiBEARian (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018). In this forthcoming story-within-a-story picture book, author Donald and artist Alex Willmore let that metafictional "fourth wall" fall, celebrating the ability of young children to enter right into a story and experience the characters and themselves as real participants in that "willing suspension of disbelief" that poet William Coleridge promised. Kids in the storytime group become gleeful participants when a startled Ms. Merryweather discovers Goldilocks is not on page for her big scene.

"WAIT! WHERE'S GOLDILOCKS?"

This book begs to be read aloud, with proper growls from the liBEARian and proper reactions from the iconic, unflappable Ms. Merryweather, staunchly forging on through circle time, come what may. Alex Willmore keeps his soft pastel illustrations light and funny as befits their fantastical bent, as author Donald slyly drops her final aside to her real-life readers.

("YOU KNOW, DON'T YOU?")

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Sunday, January 07, 2018

Jane Sinner Has Left the Building: Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke


Carol barged into my room as soon as she got home from her youth group.

CAROL: But why do you have to move out? Why won't you stay home and go to school?

JS: Don't tell the parents, but their heavy-handed approach to religion and my inability to fit into their narrow, conservative framework is crushing my delicate and blossoming identity as an autonomous individual.

CAROL: Sorry, what??

JS: They're killing my buzz.

CAROL: But what about me?

JS: You'll get over it.

CAROL: You've changed, Jane.

Poor sweet Carol. She wouldn't know an existential crisis if it punched her in the face.

Jane Sinner, on the other hand, knows an existential crisis when she sees one, and one has punched her in the face.

Along with the usual teen-aged angst, her internal conflict over being an atheist in an evangelical family prompts an impromptu suicide attempt, and her refusal to continue therapy gets her expelled from high school. Now, Jane has a new thought:

Ditching high school five months before graduation isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The only option Jane sees for herself is enroll at Elbow River Community College in their high school completion program--if she can find a way to pay for a place to live near campus.

And then she is recruited by Alexander, a film student who's recruiting a mixed bag of students to participate in an online streaming reality show. All Jane has to do is to live in sleazy communal housing, The House of Orange, compete in endless aimless contests for the prize--Alexander's old car--against Chaunt'Elle, the girl in orange makeup, Marc, a 39-year-old "student" who likes to hit on teen-aged girls, and Robbie, an otherwise seemingly nice guy who seems to be OCD about germs--all the while being filmed and recorded virtually every minute. And Marc steals her food. Of course, if Jane gets voted out, the whole plan is kaput!

And just as she begins to believe that she and Robbie have a nice romance going, he finagles a way to get her voted off the show so he can win. She's got to move out of the House of Orange to... somewhere..., her heart is broken, and finals are coming up.

No stress there, right?

Luckily, Jane has two old friends, Bonnie and Tom, and an (imaginary) psychiatrist with the best shrink name ever, Dr. Freudenschade, on her side.
Jane settled down on Dr. Freudenschade's couch. Her hair is a rat's nest, and her eyes are bloodshot.
JS: Help.
DFS: What's on TV tonight?
JS: That's
it? What happened to professionalism?
DFS. You know it was all bullshit anyway. Stop trying so hard.

With much ironic talk about Chicken McNuggets and Twizzlers, theodicies and apologetics, and teen sturm und drang, progress is made toward understanding The Meaning of Life, in Lianne Oelke's first book, Nice Try, Jane Sinner (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018). As a smart, savvy, and preternaturally comic protagonist, Oelke's Jane makes her way through her own improbably successful first semester as a semi-college student. Narrated in Jane's diary entries and script-like dialog with her cohorts, this young adult novel has the feel of a day in the life, with dry wittiness and the undercurrent of a plucky heroine feeling her way through her own coming-of-age story in which she learns a Shroedering-esque lesson, that life is, and is not, a reality show. Jane doesn't get it all together, but she's on her way.
Dr. Fraudenschade: I wish you wouldn't put your feet on the table.
JS: Who cares? It's not real.
DFS. It's the thought that counts.
J.S. So how long do I have to keep coming back here?
DFS: What did you expect? That at age eighteen you'd have all your shit together?
JS: Yes.

...Silence.

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