BooksForKidsBlog

Thursday, July 27, 2017

When You Gotta Crow, You Gotta Crow! The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy

There was once a village what the streets rang with song from morn till night.

Dogs barked, engines hummed, fountains warbled, and everyone sang in the shower.

The little village of La Paz was a happy place, but it was noisy.

Then a cranky, dyspeptic curmudgeon named Don Pepe was elected Mayor of La Paz on a platform which banned singing and everything else that made noise. At first the villagers enjoyed the peace and quiet. Their sleep was deep and undisturbed. But in the way of some rulers, Don Pepe grew more dictatorial and his law became more and more draconian.

In fact, it progressively became more and more ridiculous.

NO LOUD SINGING IN PUBLIC.
NO LOUD SINGING IN PUBLIC AT HOME.
NO LOUD SINGING AT HOME.
NO LOUD SINGING.

BASTA! QUIET ALREADY!

The town was quiet as a tomb.

But there is one scofflaw who insists on his rights. The town's chief rooster refuses to follow the new law. He climbed into a big tree and sang at daybreak outside the Mayor's bedroom window.

KEE KEE REE KEE! HE SANG.

The rebel rooster pleads his case that the tree is so lovely that he is forced to sing from it. He is promptly incarcerated, and Don Pepe has the magnificent tree chopped down.

"YOU HAVE NO TREE! WILL YOU SING THEN?

THE PLUCKY GALLITO SHRUGGED. "I HAVE NO TREE, BUT I HAVE MY HENS AND CHICKS.

HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING? KEE KEE REE KEE!!"

One by one, Don Pepe deprives the rooster of his reasons for song. He takes away his family. He takes away his freedom by isolating him in a cage. He deprives him of his corn. He covers his cage so that he cannot sing to the rising sun.

"WHY ARE YOU STILL SINGING?

"I SING FOR THOSE WHO DARE NOT SING OR HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW TO SING."

In her latest, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! (Scholastic Press, 2017), Carmen Agra Deedy offers a little parable set in folktale format which goes beyond the old saw about there being such a thing as too much of a good thing, standing up for the right of everyone to sing his own song. Deedy is a storyteller who knows how to build suspense and humor simultaneously as the clever rooster takes charge and turns the tables on the despotic Don Pepe and rouses the populace to take back their songs. The mixed media artwork of Eugene Yelchin matches Deedy's narration with subtle folk-style illustrations, spearing the dyspeptic Don Pepe in comic caricature as he progressively loses his cool with the quixotic rooster. This is a clever tale which can be read on several levels, part aesthetic, part patriotic.

Carmen Agra Deedy is also the author of The Library Dragon, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, Yellow Star, the: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, and 14 Cows for America.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Serial Sleepover! Go Sleep in Your Own Bed! by Candace Fleming

SNUGGLED IN. SNUGGLED DOWN.

BEDTIME ON THE FARM.

Inside the farmhouse a girl snuggles under her quilt, sleepily nodding over her book under the yellow light of her bedside lamp. Outside her window the sky is deep blue, and the first stars are winking on.

Is everyone in bed? Not quite.

Pig is waddley-slogging toward his lovely mucky sty, only to find something unexpected.

Cow is cozily curled up inside, a contented smile on her face.

"GET UP!" PIG SQUEALED.

"GO SLEEP IN YOUR OWN BED."

"OH, HAYSTACKS!" COMPLAINED COW.

Reluctantly, Cow mooooves, her mucky hooves clomping to the barn where she knells down into her own stall.

"BWACK!"

Cow finds a chicken already roosting in her stall and grumpily gives Hen her walking papers!

"GO SLEEP IN YOUR OWN BED!"

Unhappily, Hen flaps off to settle her feathers down in the chicken coop. But for some reason, Hen doesn't quite fit. Someone else is snoozing in her straw. It's Horse! Oh, Fuss and Feathers! Squawking and pecking, Hen heads Horse out the door and toward the barn.

Horse plods off to the stable, yawning drowsily. But he finds Sheep snoozing in his spot, and orders her to schlep herself off to the sheep pen, where Sheep finds Dog fast asleep, snoring away in her spot with the flock.

"OH BAAAH-THER!"

Sheep boots Dog out. Dog pads dejectedly off toward the kennel, but it seems another sleeper has already bedded down in his doghouse.

MEEEEEOOOOOW!

Drat! It's the old story of musical beds, and now Cat seems to be the odd one out as he sadly tiptoes to the darkened doorstep. But inside the farmhouse, there is someone who is looking for a furry bedfellow to share her cozy quilted bed.

"IT'S BEDTIME ON THE FARM!"

Candace Fleming's latest, Go Sleep in Your Own Bed (Shwartz and Wade, 2017), is a cumulative critter story with a "Go sleep in your own bed" refrain that encourages youngsters to chime in, one that has the feel of a homey folk story. Fleming adds clever dialog that makes for skilled wordplay with alliteration and puns in the inventive expletives of the would-be sleepers.

Meanwhile, in her comfy, countrified illustrations reminiscent of Betsy Lewin's celebrated artwork in Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (A Click, Clack Book), artist Lori Nichols deftly uses a nighttime palette to add a healthy helping of humor with her comic critters misappropriating each other's beds and brings the story to a satisfying full circle with everyone right where they ought to be--and with girl and cat asleep together under the light of the now-risen moon at her window. A sweetly soothing ending makes for a classic addition to the bedtime library.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Beach Fun: Llama Llama Sand & Sea by Anna Dewdney

It's high summer--the time that parents and kids go down to the sea in flip-flops and swimsuits.

LLAMA LLAMA AT THE BEACH,

SUNBLOCK AND ONE TOWEL EACH.

Mama has hopes of reading her book under the beach umbrella.

Little Llama wants to build a BIG sand castle.

He wants to make BIG splashes in the water.

But he gets a surprise when he finds out he shares the sea with fish and crabs and seashells with live things inside!

Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama Sand and Sun (Grossett And Dunlap) has touch-and-feel pages, with even sunglasses for Little Llama that reflect the little reader. The fish are scaly and the water splashes are sparkly, the crabs are--crabby and the sand is--scratchy, all described in Dewdney's familiar couplets and depicted in her charming illustrations in this little board book that shows so much fun in the sun. A jolly and charming book for kids about to have their first beach visit!

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Point A to Point B: Transportation: How People Get Around by Gail Gibbons


Transportation is what people use to get around. They choose what works best to get from place to place.

From heels to wheels and wings, humans have always been on the move from here to there. But there are probably more ways these days than ever.

Still Gail Gibbons, the queen of concept books, gamely gives her best try to categorize and describe all the many ways people change places.

In her latest, Transportation (Holiday House, 2017), author Gibbons divides her task into a veritable taxonomy of transportation--Cars and Vehicles, Trains, Boats, and Aircraft.

Within each class, artist Gibbons offers clear blackline illustrations of various vehicles, mostly shown in profile for easy identification. Gibbons' straightforward line drawings are both simple and detailed, making distinctions, for example, between automotive vans and SUVs, and even distinguishing between compact cars, coupes, middle-sized sedans, hatchbacks, station wagons, luxury sedans, and stretch limousines.

Riding the rails, Gibbons describes the variety--subway trains, elevated trains, commuter trains, freight trains, passenger trains and high speed bullet trains. As for water transportation, there are canoes and kayaks, sloops and submarines, water taxis, cruise ships, rowboats, ferries, and ocean liners, and her aircraft include single-engine airplanes, freight carriers, passenger airplanes--from puddle-jumpers to transoceanic airliners--and even vehicles that travel to the border of outer space at the International Space Station.

A non-fiction book that provides both clear visuals and vocabulary-building text, this book is a good-sized, go-to compendium for motorhead fans to browse and for those early childhood education class units on transportation.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

X Marks the Spot: Pete the Cat and the Treasure Map by James Dean

CAPTAIN PETE LOOKS ACROSS CAT COVE.

IT'S BEAUTIFUL DAY FOR AN ADVENTURE.

Pete is all set to play pirate. His rigging is snapping in the breeze, and he's got his jolly crew of swabbies aboard. He's got the hat and the hook.

What else does a privateer need to take to the sea?

A pirate needs a plan. Then Pete spots a bird flying straight for a perch on the helm.

IT'S A PARROT! SHE GIVES CAPTAIN PETE A PIECE OF PAPER. IT'S A TREASURE MAP THAT ENDS WITH AN "X."

Hurray! Pete's ship sets sail with its Jolly Roger aloft for a valiant voyage. YO HO HO AND--

Ahoy! Avast, mateys! What's that ahead?

"IT'S A GIANT SQUID!" CRIES CALLIE.

Does Captain Pete rally the crew to grab their cutlasses? Does he order them to fire their cannons at the creature?

Nope! Pete pulls out his guitar and starts rockin' to the monster's beat, in James Dean's Pete the Cat and the Treasure Map (Harper Festival, 2017).

No sea monster could resist Pete's buccaneer beat, in Dean's latest tall tale of Pete the Cat which ends, not in a battle, but in beach music. Youngsters may be inspired to make up their own pirate game after this inexpensive paperback provides the summertime fantasy. And--stickers are included!

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Here We Go A-Wandering: Garcia and Collette Go Exploring by Hannah Barnaby

"SPACE!" SAID GARCIA.

SEA!" SAID COLETTE.

It's a version of the old family brouhaha about where to go on vacation.

Best buddies Garcia and Colette both crave exploration of exotic spaces, but they simply can't agree on where to go and how to get there. Garcia opts for a visit to comets and stars, and Colette dreams of deep sea sights, and ne'er the twain shall meet.

Separately the two would-be roamers collect piles of what might look like junk to the uninitiated and begin to build their exploratory vehicles. Garcia assembles his spacecraft, and Colette constructs her submarine.

Garcia's rocket was snazzy and silvery, made of metal and bolts, with a round window on the side.

Colette's sub was gold and glorious, made of metal and bolts, with a square window on the front.

Garcia blasts off and Colette sinks into the sea, with both of their designs functioning as planned.

Garcia is immediately beguiled by the glorious glow of meteors and stars. But he notices that there is a lot of blackness out there, too.

"Space is quiet," he wrote in his notebook.

Colette joyfully floats over coral reefs with their exotic fish and strange creatures like shine like lanterns. Still, there is an awful lot of deep dark outside her little window.

"The sea is quiet," she wrote.

Deep space and the deep sea are both too quiet. It's time to reconsider this exploration thing.

Alone is no fun is the familiar premise of Hannah Barnaby's Garcia  and Colette Go Exploring (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2017), as her charming little rabbit and cute little fox conclude, as they recalibrate their ventures to allow them to explore an intriguing place that suits them both. That things are better when you do them together is a popular storybook theme, and author Barnaby's narration makes good use of parallelism as her two little travelers separately discover that their solo voyages into the unknown satisfy everything but the need for someone to share it with. Artist Andrew Joiner's detailed illustrations catch the energy of kids venturing out in the unknown in their own creative contraptions with plenty of verve and elan. Says Kirkus in their starred review, "Telling one story well is enough of a challenge, but this book perfectly balances two stories and the characters within them, adding up to more than the sum."

Share this one with Camille Andros' recent and similarly themed Charlotte the Scientist Is Squished (see review here.)

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Say Goodnight, Albert: Goodnight, Lab (A Scientific Parody) by Chris Ferrie

IN THE GREAT GREEN LAB,
THERE WAS A LASER
AND A LAB NOTEBOOK

AND A PICTURE OF EINSTEIN
WITH A STERN LOOK.

No picture book has been more beloved--and more parodied--than Margaret Wise Brown's perennial best-seller, Goodnight Moon, with its familiar green cover and irregular verse form that has chronicled the steps in bedtime preparation and persuasion for generations of tykes. Indeed, the cover layout is so iconic that the subtitle A Scientific Parody is hardly necessary on Chris Ferrie's latest tot science title, Goodnight Lab: A Scientific Parody (Baby University) (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky Books, 2017).

Chris Ferrie, a writer devoted to introducing the vocabulary and concepts of science to the nursery school set, faithfully parallels the narration of Margaret Wise Brown's bedtime story. With the dour image of Albert Einstein looking down from the wall, we bid goodnight to both the thermometer and the spectronomer and selected scientific apparatus and paraphernalia and even the clutter of labwork, and Ferrie even includes that bugaboo of academics everywhere:

GOODNIGHT, RUBBISH.

GOODNIGHT, GRUMPY OLD PROFESSOR
SHOUTING "PUBLISH!"

In his several Baby University board books, such as his amazingly top-selling Quantum Physics for Babies (Baby University), Ferrie avoids the chicken-and-egg question by introducing scientific vocabulary and complex concepts to the very young simultaneously, believing that naming big ideas goes right along with early understanding of scientific principles.

In this clever parody, however, author-illustrator Ferrie offers no theories, just a comic take-off on an old bedtime standby, tossing in items such as lab coats, the ubiquitous sticky notes, lab notebooks, and ammeters and voltmeters along the way. This little board book also offers some chuckles for grownups, while simultaneously stimulating more questions than yawns--which was likely the author's plan all along.

For youngsters who love wordplay as well as lab paraphernalia, pair this one with Michael Rex's killer-diller knockoff, Goodnight Goon: a Petrifying Parody, (read review here) Rex's equally punny Runaway Mummy: a Petrifying Parody, or Michael Teitelbaum's spoof of Eric Carle's classic caterpillar tale, The Very Hungry Zombie: A Parody.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movin' with the Animals! Zen Zoo: A Yoga Story for Kids by Kristen Fischer

LYLA IS READY.
TO TRY SOMETHING NEW.
CAN SHE LEARN YOGA
FROM FRIENDS AT THE ZOO?

Sure! Animals have all the good moves, so once you've done downward dog, you're ready to go a little wild with your yoga. So little Lyla heads for the zoo.

With her yoga girl pants on, Lyla decides to unroll her mat first in front of a balancing bear.

THIS BALANCING BEAR
GRABS ONTO HIS FEET.
LYLA GRABS ALSO,
AND LIFTS FROM HER SEAT.

And while Lyla is down on all fours, it's easy to slip into a slide like the slithering snakes. Then she moves on to prowl like three lions, and then bends like a quartet of kneeling camels.

Like six crocs, Lyla gets down on her tummy, and when dolphins arch through their jumps, she raises her bottom with her arms out flat--like that!

The gorillas are next, screeching and reaching, but Lyla bends way down to grab her heels and laughs at them. Then Lyla poses with the languid leopards and ends her routine leaping and hopping without stopping with ten frogs in the amphibian enclosure.

Kristen Fischer's just published Zoo Zen: A Yoga Story for Kids (Sounds True, 2017) counts the zoo critters up while leading her little yoga buff through ten poses, loosely modified to match the moves of familiar zoo dwellers. Fischer's choice of zoo animals as pro tem yoga masters give an added incentive to young yoga beginners, and Susi Schaefer's sophisticated palette and exotic collage illustrations make this book delightfully eye-catching to young yoga novices. Says Publishers Weekly, "Parents seeking to introduce yoga to their children should find this an engaging, easy-to-follow resource."

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Meet Me at the Fair!" Fairy Floss: The Sweet Story of Cotton Candy by Ann Ingalls

"Meet me in St. Louis, Louie,"
Meet me at the Fair!
Don't tell me the lights are shining
Anywhere but there!"


In 1904 St. Louis, Missouri, was the place to be, the celebrated site of the World's Fair. The Paris World's Fair had its Eiffel Tower, the 1893 Chicago Exposition had its famous Ferris Wheel--

And St. Louis had--ELECTRICITY!

Sure, the Chicago Fair had its signature Ferris wheel lighted by thousands of bulbs, but in St. Louis electricity was king. It was everywhere! The Exposition Hall was filled with brand-new appliances--electric fans, waffle makers, irons, percolators, toasters and typewriters, even washing machines. There was a fantastic cascade of water into a lake, powered by electric pumps, an ice skating rink in July, and lots and lots of food vendors providing new foods prepared with new electrical inventions.

Most people know that ice cream cones were the hit new food at the Fair, but few know the story of John Wharton and William Morrison's Fairy Floss machine which electrically heated sugar syrup and spun it out into a bowl in the form of what Americans now call "cotton candy."

John Wharton, a candy maker, stood over a gas-fired stove; he turned the crank on a candy-making machine over and over.

"Making spun sugar sure is hard work," said little Lillie.

"It's almost done," said John. "As the little barrel spins faster and faster, melted sugar passes through tiny openings and into the catching bowl. It cools and forms a candy thread.

If you go to the World's Fair, you will see me and my dentist friend and our electric candy machine."

And of course Lillie, her Aunt Mae, and millions of others flock to the St. Louis World's Fair, where Wharton's "fairy floss" is a big hit, along with that other fortuitous new food fancy, the ice cream cone, which also found its first mass market there. Now cotton candy (which has many names such as candy wool and candy floss) is available at every fair, from small county fairs to every World's Fair since, as well as theme parks everywhere.

Ann Ingalls' Fairy Floss: The Sweet Story of Cotton Candy (Little Bee Books, 2017) takes young readers back where they can see the sights of dazzling new inventions through the amazed eyes of Lillie and Auntie Mae. Artist Migy Blanco captures the colorful bustling spirit of turn-of-the-century St. Louis, in two-page spreads where women wear billowing long skirts and huge hats and men sport dapper bowties and bowlers and children scream in mock terror as they ride the exciting new electrical rides on the midway, an event which gave us a new word to describe the fabulous goings-on at the 1904 World's Fair--

It was a Lallopalooza!

For another account of a lallopalooza of a ground-breaking fair, pair this one with Kathryn Gibbs Davis' Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (see review here).

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Seven Crows For a Secret, Not To Be Told: One For Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

At the door to my room, Elsie stopped and stared."This is all yours? Oh, Annie, you are so lucky."

Elsie tried out the rocking chair Father had made for me. She even opened the doors to the tall wardrobe and flipped through my skirts and dress and blouses. Finally she sat down on my bed and gave a little bounce. "You are my best friend. What good times we'll have playing here." I tried to smile. Elsie picked up Edward Bear and squeezed his tummy to make him growl. "What makes that noise?" She poked Edward's belly harder. "We should cut him open and find out. He's just a stuffed animal. Old and ugly and smelly."

"Give him to me," I cried. "I've had him since I was a baby. I'd never hurt him.""

It is 1918, and shy, only child Annie has just started sixth grade in a new school in a new town and longs to be accepted by the circle of girls led by the bold, red-haired Rosie, but before their first recess, Elsie grabs her hand and telling her how mean the other girls are, forces her to play only with her. And after school, uninvited she follows Annie home. Annie's mother kindly invites her to stay for dinner, but Annie finds it impossible to like Elsie, overweight, with horribly crooked teeth, and seeming to hate everyone--the teacher, the other students, even her stepmother and father whom she claims beat her and lock her in her room. Annie tries to be polite, but there is something frightening about Elsie that makes her wish she would stay away.

Then Elsie is absent from school for several days, and Annie is accepted by Rosie and the others into their group. Rosie is daring and mischievous and invents wonderful ideas for after-school adventures. And when the Spanish flu strikes their town, and black wreaths appear on the doors of many houses, Rosie has the most audacious idea ever--that the girls join the mourners and follow them to help themselves to the refreshments for the wake. Annie is unwilling, but follows Rosie for fear of losing her friends, and Rosie thinks nothing of studying the obituaries in the newspaper to prepare to make conversation at the wakes.

Then, on one cold dark afternoon, the girls come upon Elsie, wearing a flue mask, all alone on a swing, and Rosie leads the girls in teasing her. They circle around her, singing,

I had a little bird,
And its name was Enza.
I opened up the window,
And in flew Enza.

Annie feels ashamed as Elsie cries and tries to escape from the circle, but led by Rosie, the girls chase her partway home.

Then several days later, crashing another wake, the girls get a shock.

"Come in and say goodbye to her," the woman at the door said.

All five of us arrived at the coffin at the same moment. We all gasped, even Rosie, and backed away. It was Elsie. Rosie's face was so pale every freckle stood out. "We just saw her a few days ago," she whispered.

Sobered by the thought that they somehow might have contributed to Elsie's death, the girls attend no more wakes. Annie has constant nightmares about Elsie, but with the end of the war, everyone's spirits begin to rise, and with school still canceled, the girls spend their days outside in snowball fights and sledding. Then, near twilight one night, Rosie dares them all to take their sleds to the big hill inside the cemetery. The paths are crooked and icy, and Annie crashes into a monument adorned with an angel. When she comes back to consciousness, she sees that it is Elsie's tombstone, and inside her aching head she hears Elsie's voice. And then Elsie appears as well.

Elsie floated above the snow. She wore the same pale blue silk dress she'd worn when I last saw her lying in her coffin.

"Why don't you say hello? Now that I'm dead, I mean to have the friend I wanted--you, Annie," she whispers.

Elsie haunts Annie's sleeping and waking moments and begins to possess her mind, making her say and do things she doesn't want to do until her "precarious state of mind" forces her parents to place Annie in a convalescent home, in Mary Downing Hahn's moving story, One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). Inspired by her own mother's memories of the influenza song and many children's funeral wakes from her childhood days, Hahn places this story in the days of the Spanish flu epidemic, long-past time which sets the scene for a memorable ghost tale. But this one is no horror story, meant only to spark shivers and keep pages turning. Hahn's ability to blend evil and good in her stories is inimitable, here pitting the angry but pitiable spirit of Elsie against the essential goodness of Mrs. Jameson, a frail elderly patient at the home who, as she lies dying, promises to free Annie by leading Elsie's restless ghost to reunite with the spirit of her lost mother.

Buffered by the author's empathy for all her characters and her well-drawn apparitions, Hahn's novels leave her readers with a deepened understanding of human nature in which ghosts finally find peace, leaving the reader with an affirmation of life.

Hahn's other noted ghost tales include Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story, , a classic which was made into a feature-length movie, Time for Andrew: A Ghost Story,  The Old Willis Place, and Stepping on the Cracks, all great for middle readers on those long summer afternoons and dark and stormy summer nights.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Sheep in a Winding Sheet? Sheep Trick or Treat by Nancy Shaw

When the October moon rises, sheep don disguises. They make like an ape and try fangs and a cape.

Sheep rip scraps for mummy wraps.

There's no mystery here. It's time to hit the street and baa for some treats.

The sheep are pleased with their transformations. A twosome gorilla towers over a woolly dino, a vampire flashes fangs, and the mummy is well under wraps, as the sheep set out, certain they are safe in their undercover costumes.

Sheep bleat,"Trick or treat!"

The sheep stop at the stable and hit up the horses for quite a haul--oats and apples and sweet lumps of sugar. A spider offers a dead fly, but the sheep pass that one by. (Wouldn't ewe?) The chickens in their coops hand out eggs--but OOOPS! The eggs are scrambled and the sheep scram!

At the barn the cows offer clover. The sheep's pumpkins are finally filled. Is Halloween over?

But there's still the long, dark walk through the woods to their fold. What are those scary noises? And what are those fleecy shapes with hairy gray tails?

It's the wolves--in sheep's clothing! Have the cunning wolves pulled the wool over their eyes this time?

Will the sheep be fleeced? Or will they foil the wolves with something really spooky?

All's well that ends well, in the brand-new board book edition of Nancy Shaw's Sheep Trick or Treat (board book) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017 ) If the sheep can handle a jeep, they can surely trick the wolves for a happy repast safe in their fold at last. Shaw's narration make good use of her lively lines with internal rhymes, and Margot Apple's signature sheep make for a jolly group of Halloween-goers, in itself a treat for the upcoming scary season.

Other popular favorites by Shaw and Apple include Sheep in a Jeep (board book), Sheep Out to Eat and Sheep Go to Sleep (board book) (Sheep in a Jeep). (see review here).

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Chef Challenge! Lights, Camera, COOK! (Next Best Junior Chef) by Charise Mericle Harper

While the judges got themselves seated, Chef Nancy whispered last-minute instructions to the junior chefs.

"Cameras are on. Remember:
Don't look at the cameras. Look at the judges."

Then comes The Question:

If you become the Next Best Junior Chef, what will your food truck be?"

Artsy Rae calls her truck the Crafty Cafe'. The supremely self-confident Oliver titles his truck Bistro Revilo (Oliver spelled backwards, of course.) Creative Caroline names hers Diner Francaise, an amalgam of the lowly diner Americaine with a French twist, and little Tate, the youngest at only eight years old, declares his truck the Stuff My Face, with daily-changing multi-ethnic menus.

Chef Gary called Tate's truck "clever" Chef Aimee said it was "funny."

"It's fine," said Chef Porter, looking like she'd just eaten a super-sour pickle. Tate withered like spinach in a pan.

It looks like the Next Best Junior Chef Contest is going to be a dog-eat-dog competition!

Let the best chef win is the motto, and in Charise Mericle Harper's Episode One of her new series, readers are plunged into that timely trope, the reality TV cooking contest. Rae, Oliver, and Caroline are already accomplished in cookery, and even little Tate wields a mean chef's knife, and the four 'tweeners are thrown into an intense four-day rivalry. The kids are all skilled cooks, masters of umami, with sophisticated palettes, contending with each other to concoct unusual combinations way beyond just sweet and savory and to master presentation skills, "plating," that shows off the dish.

Finally it comes down to the last cook-off. Each junior chef is first asked to choose a vegetable and use it as the base for a dessert. Caroline works her baby eggplants into a caramelized apple-eggplant filling, layered in puff pastry, garnished with caramel sauce and ground pistachios. Oliver opts for sweet potato fritters, with lavender-honey sauce, and a slice of trigger melon filled with sweet potato-cream cheese ice cream, with yam crisps on the side. Rae serves up a simple spiced lime and mango tart with spicy poblano brittle on the side, and Tate concocts a molten chocolate beet pudding cake with chocolate web crust, set off by candied yellow and red beets.

But there are some slips 'twixt cup and lip in the final face-off. Tate forgets to taste his pudding and it's not sweet enough to please Chef Porter. Caroline's puff pastry is a bit soggy on bottom, while Rea worries over how much poblano is too much for brittle and Oliver frets over whether his fritters will be fluffy enough.

They all know that after this round, one of them will be asked to turn in his or her apron!

It's high stakes cuisine in Harper's first in her planned trilogy, Lights, Camera, Cook! (Next Best Junior Chef) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), as the production crew rushes the young chefs through training and tasting trials and pushes competition to a fever pitch for the final showdown. But along the way noted author Harper manages to portray strong friendships, develop mutual understanding, and learn grace under the pressure of reality television. Harper also provides plenty of cooking lore for any budding foodies among her readers, even an appendix on "Essential Knife Techniques." This one is an appetite-teasing, tasty treat for summer reading, which just may, perchance, induce some forays into the kitchen along the way.

Harper even offers an excerpt from the next book in the series, forthcoming in February of 2018, in which the challenge continues to heat up among the three remaining contestants, The Heat Is On (Next Best Junior Chef).

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Disclaimer! This Book Will Not Be Fun by Cirocco Dunlap

I am just going to sit here in silence and wait for the book to be over.

I don't know why you are still here.

Call yourself warned. The geeky mouse with the big glasses has told you to expect nothing. And disregard that flying whale. He is of no interest, none, none at all.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

Hey! You can see him, too? Remarkable.

Oh, drat! He ate my words. What an untoward thing to happen to a narrator. Flying whales can't exist. My Encyclopedia of Creatures says so. Oh, well.

The big-headed mouse has nothing good to say about this book. With a dispassionate demeanor he leads the reader from recto to verso. He perfunctorily points out a boring worm, which suddenly glows like a firefly, which is a good thing, since the lights seem to be out on the next page.

Too much excitement. I will have to follow the worm's footprints.

What's this? A light switch?

It would seem our dyspeptic guide has lead us into a new chapter--a brightly-neon-lit disco party. Whoa!

I didn't sign up for this...

But that music is very spritely! Toe-tapping, you might say.

I am shaking my bottom, as it were.

"There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away," said Emily Dickinson, but even Emily never met a metabook that led her to disco dance. But in Cirocco Dunlap's new This Book Will Not Be Fun(Random House, 2017), even his sober and staid nerd-mouse can find himself going all footloose, exchanging his proper tie for tie-dye and dancing the night away.

Artist Olivier Tallec's illustrations give our straitlaced narrator a good time despite himself, setting him and his blase' ruminations center-page against white backgrounds while the assorted pictorial absurdities are given the full-bleed color treatment. Kids who go for Herve Tullet's best-selling meta-creation Press Here or Deborah Freedman's The Story of Fish and Snail will find that this book IS fun!

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Field Trip: My Trip to the Science Museum by Mercer Mayer

IT WAS SCIENCE DAY AND MY CLASS TOOK THE BUS TO THE SCIENCE MUSEUM.

A science museum, with its exciting exhibits and its happy hands-on science activities is like an educational theme park, and Little Critter and his crew are full of curiosity about what they can see and do.

And they are in luck. Their tour will be hosted by none other than Dr. Neil DaBison, the famous television science celebrity. Their teacher Miss Kitty and Dr. DaBison treat them to activities like making a potato battery, touching a glop of plasma. Then Miss Kitty and Dr. DaBison bravely touch the Van de Graaff generator, which makes their hair stand straight up.

THEY LOOKED SO SILLY!

But there's more! There is the planetarium show, where they feel as if they are flying through space and circling the planets themselves and see what must be billions of stars. Then the kids have lunch aboard a model of the Space Shuttle.

Finally it is time to tell Dr. DaBison goodbye and get in line up to climb back on the bus for what now seems like a very slow and short trip through space back to their school. But Little Critter is inspired.

"I WANT TO GROW UP TO BE YOU, DR. DA BISON. YOU HAVE THE BEST TOYS IN THE UNIVERSE!"

Mercer Mayer's latest Little Critter tale, Little Critter: My Trip to the Science Museum (Harper Festival, 2017) is the perfect book to prepare preschoolers and lower primary students for a museum field trip. Mercer Mayer's illustrations of "Dr. DaBison" (a.k.a the real Neil deGrasse Tyson) are quite skilled caricatures, making the famous PBS star scientist easily recognizable to savvy youngsters, and this adventure featuring Mayer's famous character gives kids a realistic look at what they can see and do at a science museum.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Pianoforte! The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano by Elizabeth Rusch

The Italian city of Padua in the 1600s was filled with sound.

Horses' hooves and wagon wheels clatter down the cobblestone streets and workmen's hammers clang and bang all around. But Prince Ferdinando de Medici is oblivious to the cacophony as he leaps from his fancy carriage. A fine musician, the Prince is eager to hear the two famous musical instruments of Bartolomeo Cristoforo--the clavichord and the harpsichord.

But for Cristofori, the harpsichords and clavichords can only do so much.

The sound of the harpsichord is forte, always LOUD.

The sound of the clavichord is pianissimo, always SOFT.

If only Christoforo's keyboard instrument could fully express the music of life!

But in Italy, where the Renaissance is in full swing, many artists are also scientists, and Bartolomeo is likely the modern world's first mechanical sound engineer. He begins to experiment with the intensity of the sound of his two keyboard instruments. Their sound comes from the plucking of the strings connected to the keyboard, causing the strings inside, parts of a sort of harp lying on its side, to create the musical sounds. How about changing the metal of the strings? Bartolomeo observes materials used by the artisans and builders busy in Padua and tries different types of strings and different materials to strike those strings. He settles on brass strings and small wooden hammers. But will the volume vary when he strikes the keys gently and when he strikes them forcefully? Will the powerful Prince Medici be pleased?

Cristofori's invention, the pianoforte, can be played softly, loudly, and in between. It created the music of life in Padua around the inventor--from singing birds to crashing gongs--and it is an instant hit with the Medici's musician prince, and under its nickname, "the piano," it has been a hit ever since, in Elizabeth Rusch's The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano (Atheneum Books, 2017).

Author Rusch evokes the liveliness of the scene in old Padua with onomatopoeia, sibilant musical terms, and the intensity of the would-be pianist prince in this true story of the creation of the piano, ably assisted by artist Marjorie Priceman, a two-time Caldecott Honor winner, especially known for her hit companion book, Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin (Aladdin Picture Books). Priceman's illustrations flow sinuously throughout the well-designed text from page to page, mirroring the flow of musical sound itself.

This book is perfect for an elementary music teacher's personal class library, lends itself well to a little experimentation with assorted percussive and string instruments, and pairs well with an appropriate piano piece for a pleasantly satisfying literary music lesson. (For some piano and forte playing, hear "Fur Elise," here.)

Adds Kirkus Reviews, "Extensive backmatter further illuminates the text and invites readers to listen to recordings of surviving and replica pianos. Delightfully energetic, this will inspire young pianists."

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