Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tough Love! Nope! A Tale of First Flight by Drew Sheneman

"Fish got to swim,

Birds got to fly...."

But maybe not this bird.

One look down... down.... down... and ... down ... from the nest and this wary little parrot scoots back, trying to get back under Mama's wing.

The sky is huge and his wings are so small. And what's down there?

Slavering gray wolves? Prowling orange cats? Circling CROCODILES?


Mama gives him THE LOOK through veiled lids. She tilts her head to indicate some fearless fledglings faithfully taking to their wings from a nearby nest. Everything about her body language says Come on, sonny, you're a BIRD. Get with the program.

Junior looks over the edge of the nest again. It's a long way to anywhere from there. Look how little his wings are? How many ways can he say NO! He tries saying in in Spanish. In German. In Russian.


He has a squawking, flapping tizzy of a tantrum.

The fainthearted fledgling huddles next to an exasperated Mama Parrot. There is a sly look on her face as she picks up her offspring, gives him a great big smackeroo on his cute little baby bill, and then...

Boots him out of the nest!


Mother knows best, in Drew Sheneman's comic lesson in avian tough love, NOPE (Viking Books, 2017). Author Sheneman's career skills as a cartoonist are put to good use in his first picture book venture, told in nothing but negative words, in assorted languages, letting the facial expressions and body language of his characters do the narrating. Fish are born in their element, but for birds, flying is a leap of faith they must elect to take.

Sheneman's illustrations, with his funny cartoon characters center stage, sunny greenery and beckoning blue sky in the background, give this one a benevolent ambiance despite its hard-nosed premise. Kids with empathize with the little parrot, reluctant to make that big step off into thin air but will ultimately cheer, as Sheneman's skittish chick falls, flutters, flaps, and finally has that first flight. With a smug, self-satisfied Yep, Mama settles back in her now empty nest, but her young one also gives her the air as he flies back up, bids Mama a fond farewell, and soars away into the wild blue yonder.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Where the Heart Is: A Rambler Steals Home by Carter Higgins

"Aren't we lucky?" Garland asked. "Just traveling souls, making traditions and cheeseburgers." I didn't really know if I believed that part, but I sure could believe in the summer's traditions.

Garland always said being a rambler of the road meant food, family, and fun. Triple and I always said it meant three other things--blisters, grease splatters, and loneliness. But there we were, rambling back to Ridge Creek for another summer.

Eleven-year-old Derby's dad, Garland, has a bad case of wander-foot. For most of the year they take their Rambler, towing a grill, from autumn fairs and pumpkin festivals to Christmas tree lots, and on through the spring carnivals, but summer always brings them right back to Ridge Creek, Virginia, parking in the grass between the Heritage Inn and the Ridge Creek Rockskippers baseball stadium. Garland is happiest on the road. He cheerfully homeschools Derby and little brother Triple and mans the grill, selling hamburgers with fried onions and the newest big thing, sweet potato fries. But since her mother left, years ago, Derby has longed for a real home, not one on wheels, and for her the old, faded Rockskippers Stadium is like home, where everything and everyone is the same, especially June Mattingly, her summertime mother.

Right away, she spots the sign taped to the fence.

Welcome back, Sugar Sue.

Only one person called me that.

The Rockskippers Stadium is still wonderful, a bit more shabby, its paint a bit more faded, but what is different this year is June. Instead of inviting her to sit on her porch for lemonade and raisin cookies, her sign tells Derby to meet her in the ticket booth, where June works all summer. June is warm and welcoming, but to Derby something seems different.

The old baseball park is just about the same, and the secret space between the fence planks where Derby and her friend Marcus squeeze through is still there. The creek is there, cool and full of turtles for Triple to catch, and Betsy and Lolly, the town mean girls, are still there, looking down their noses at Derby. Candy Plogger is still plotting to win the best dessert contest with her apple pies. But between smiles, June seems sad, and her once neat flower-filled front yard has been taken over by weeds. Even her front door is faded and peeling its paint.

Derby soon learns that June's husband Franklin, has died. Derby's friend, Marcus has taken over the grounds-keeping job, suddenly seeming more serious and grown-up, and he, too, sees that the life seems to have gone out of June, and she is just not the same. And so, for Derby, Ridge Creek is not the same.

Franklin Mattingly had broad shoulders, massive hands, and an even bigger heart. Players came and went, and the teenagers who sold peanuts left for college. But Franklin was always there. The first to show up and the last to go.

But Derby needs June, and soon decides that June needs her. Together she and Marcus make a plan to get rid of the weeds in June's yard and plant flowers and paint and decorate her door in a perfect pink, hoping that some fixing up will help with June's grief. Little by little, others join in the effort, even Betsy and Lolly, who work out big letters, spelling out something secret, and a tricky wave motion from the crowd in the stadium for what turns out to be a big town salute to June.



The James Edward Allen Gibbs Stadium was on its feet, cheering from the bullpens to the nosebleeds. When June saw me waiting at home plate, it felt like looking into a mirror. We had the same broken heart, sewn up, and weaved back together.

Derby comes home, in Carter Higgins' A Rambler Steals Home (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). With a main character whose reality is far from the lifestyle of most middle readers, this debut novel has a lot to say about the universal need for a place in the heart, a place to belong. Derby Christmas Clark is different sort of character, but one which readers will recognize in themselves, and the world of Ridge Creek is a rich background for this story about love and community and the need of the human heart to call some place home.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Too Much of A Good Thing! Fairy Tale Frankie and the Tricky Witch by Greg Gormley



But there is no time for princessy niceties. She pleads for assistance.


Frankie pushes the fairy princess under her bed, trying to stay calm. But just then a unicorn bursts into her bedroom with the same plea about a witch coming. Frankie crams the unicorn into her closet and closes the door firmly.

Then she hears some splashing in the bathroom and finds a mermaid trying to hide in the tub. Frankie draws the bath curtain shut, just as she hears a strange metallic clanking downstairs.

It's a knight, in creaking armor. Frankie aims him at the coat closet, pushing him back behind boots and overcoats until he is concealed. Then there's a king pounding on the door, looking royally scared. Where to hide him? All the good places are taken. Improvising instantly, Frankie puts him next to the sofa and shoves a lampshade down over his head.

But next a big frog leaps in, looking for a hiding place.

Fairy Tale Frankie is not just a follower of fairy stories; she's a fairy tale fanatic! But what is she supposed to do with this frog? She's certainly not going to kiss him! She opens the pantry and he jumps into a cereal box.

Then, with a KAZAM! the Witch herself appears with a screech!


Will Fairy Tale Frankie falter in the face of this frightening figure?

It's all in good fun, in Greg Gormley's Fairy Tale Frankie and the Tricky Witch (Aladdin Books, 2016). In its new paperback edition, Frankie finds out that she's just become part of a very-fairy-tale game of hide-and-seek. The frog comes forth to declare it's his turn to be IT and invites Frankie to play with them. This is a good-hearted look at fractured fairy tale fun, with the comic cartoon illustrations of Steven Lenton to keep the action light and jolly enough for the youngest fairy tale fan.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Color Me A Rainbow: Penguins Love Color by Sarah Aspinall


And it's no wonder. Mama Penguin loves colorful flowers and has named her six chicks after her favorites.


(Yes. Broccoli is technically the edible flowering part of the plant!)

And not only that--each one has a matching color hat!

So one day the little penguins decide to paint Mama some surprise pictures of her favorite flowers. They pull out the paints and brushes and have at it, getting their paints all over themselves and the white ice and snow all around them. It's a mad muddle of messy colors. Mama Penguin loves her surprise portraits of her little penguins, but... she's still Mama:


If anyone needs more color in their lives, it has to be penguins! They're black and white and live in a world of snow and ice!

And in Sarah Aspinall's new Penguins Love Colors (Scholastic Press, 2016), there's more than enough color to brighten up the Antarctic in Aspinall's eye-catching picture book, exceptional for its ebullient and enticing illustrations of penguin chicks wearing their color-coordinated little berets. It's a simple story with an effusive look at the captivating powers of contrast, with the flowery shades against black and white characters, as cute as they can be.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

On the Loose! How to Catch the Tooth Fairy by Adam Wallace

I'm the Tooth Fairy, Yes, I am!
And every single night,

I collect 300,000 teeth
While staying out of sight.

The tooth fairy is one proud practitioner, whisking away those unneeded baby teeth. Out with the old. In with the new!

And then there's that baby-tooth bonus, the money the Tooth Fairy leaves in exchange for the cast-off tooth.

But some kids won't settle for just taking the cash from the switch. Those kids, the same ones who also hide behind the sofa to sneak a peak at Santa Claus, often try to capture the Tooth Fairy. On this night there is a girl called Julie and a boy named Sanjeev who think they've got the perfect Tooth Fairy trap ready and waiting.

Every trap that's set for me
is sure to be defeated.

A trap of floss?
That's Julie's loss!

And Sanjeev? He can forget it! Kids 0, Tooth Fairy 2!

Many kids will try, but the Tooth Fairy continues to ply her trade with impunity, in Adam Wallace's How to Catch the Tooth Fairy (Sourcebook/Jabberwocky, 2016). Artist Andy Elkorn's illustrations show great charm and inventiveness, from cozy interior bedtime scenes from many perspectives to blue-black twilights in which the lively fairy surfs her way to work on a toothbrush.

And don't forget to pair this one with Wallace and Elkorn's hit for more March merriment, How to Catch a Leprechaun.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Here, Kitty, Kitty! Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes

A few days earlier, Sura's family had gotten ready to leave. Since they could only bring what they could carry, they had packed just one bag full of food and water.

But Sura had decided that they could not leave without their beloved cat, Kunkush.

Sura's family made their way from the besieged town of Mosul in war-torn Iraq to the Turkish coast. Inside his straw carrier, Kunkush was a cooperative cat, and they managed to make their way onto the boat without anyone noticing their stowaway pet.

Sura prayed that the cat hidden in a small carrier would stay quiet. If the smuggler discovered Kunkush, he would make them pay a great deal more money.

The big white cat kept quiet through the short voyage, and the family waded ashore, with Sura's big brother clutching the cat carrier tightly. But when he reached safety, he put the basket down and went back into the water to help the rest of the family to shore.

And the frightened Kunkush pushed his way out of the basket carrier and quickly disappeared into the forest, running like a deer.

Sura's family and the other travelers called and searched for Kunkush, but he was not found. Finally, they had no choice but to push on with their group on a walk that carried them through Greece and Macedonia, on to Germany, and at last to Norway, where they would make their new home. It seemed that Sura would never see her beloved cat again.

But that was not the end of the story for Kunkush. Some of the Greek volunteers spotted a bedraggled and hungry white cat among the strays begging fishermen for scraps at the dock, and one of them, Amy, took him in and started searching for the little girl who had lost her cat. She knew she couldn't trace Sura's family alone, but she knew something she could do.

Amy's friend in the United States made a Facebook page which made Kunkush, now called Diias, (modern Greek for Zeus) famous. An English couple agreed to keep the cat safe for a while, and at last Sura saw his picture on the news in Norway and instantly recognized her cat. And in a Skype call to Sura's family, their lost cat recognized his famiy and they recognized him, and at long last, the reunion of Sura and Kunkush was arranged.

But at the airport Amy and Kunkush were stopped at the gate. An official declared that Amy's carrier was too small for a cat of his size.

"Why, that cat can't even turn around," he declared, closing the gate.

Kunkush turned around immediately--180 degrees!

Against all odds, there was a happy reunion for Sura and Kunkush in Norway after all, in Doug Kuntz's and Amy Shrodes,' Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey (Crown Books, 2017). Among all the sad accounts of refugees fleeing the Middle East for Europe, this true story gives young readers who can scarcely imagine such a thing an understanding of the hardships of a journey which for refugees means leaving behind everything they love, a home, family, friends, and pets. But in this sweet modern miracle story of human kindness and reunion with a beloved pet, beautifully illustrated by Sue Cornelison. young readers can take away a hopeful look at the current story of war refugees, in which much is left behind, but not all the important things are lost.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Washing Up! Baby Animals Take a Bath by Marsha Diane Arnold

Not everyone in the animal kingdom bathes, of course. Snakes don't. Cicadas don't. But maybe staying in their dirty old skins isn't such a great idea. After all, snakes have to shed those old skins. And crustaceans like cicadas molt. And both groups are in danger from predators while they are in the midst of these tedious processes.

But most other little creatures have better ways to keep clean. Baby polar bears and baby fur seals go to opposite extremes in the name of hygiene.

Baby seals choose sun baths. Baby polar bears seek snow baths.

Some babies just make use of their natural equipment. A tiger cub takes a bath with his tongue. A baby elephant uses his flexible trunk to take a shower.

Some small creatures take advantage of whatever is in their environments. A chickadee picks a handy puddle. A snow monkey chooses a steam bath in a hot spring. A baby zebra rolls in the dust, and baby hippos hop in the mud.

And the youngest humans kick and splash bubbles in their baby bathtubs, in Marsha Diane Arnold's Baby Animals Take a Bath (Charlesbridge, 2017). Arnold crafts the simplest of texts, with each full picture page featuring an adjective and a noun, in a board book that may even empower emergent readers.

Tongue bath.

Trunk bath.

And with artist Phyllis Tildes' charming and detailed illustrations of expressive baby animal faces, not to mention their textured fur and feet, it seems each one happily enjoys its own style of bathing, an incentive to young humans who may be reluctant to take to the suds.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Way to Start the Day! Good Morning, Yoga by Mariam Gates

My first breath is long and deep.

I twist and turn to shake off sleep.

Getting up and getting going is hard to do--for most of us. Mariam Gates has a new way to start the day with youngsters, a short and sweet yoga set that begins and ends with deep breathing.

In between, there are some classic yoga poses, with invitations to imagine being in the breeze on a beach, being a flower reaching for the sun, a slash of lightning, and for fun, even a downward doggie ready to bound away and play.

In their Good Morning Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Wake Up Story (Sounds True, 2016), Sarah Jane Hinder's inventive and playful illustrations give kids a fun-filled demonstration of ten poses that use all parts of the body, and Gates' rhyming narration provides prompts that will make them want to get into the game with a parent. Appended for reference is a rundown of each pose with a thumbnail illustration. This one pairs well with its partner, Gates' and Hinder's companion book, Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story, which helps wind down those wound-up youngsters before bedtime.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Promises, Promises! Splat the Cat for President by Rob Scotton

The ballots were counted.

It was official--Splat was the new student body president.

Everyone cheered. Well, almost everyone.

It is time for Splat's big acceptance speech. His chest swells with pride, and he is eager to please all his voters.

"I promise that everyone will get new pencils! Your goldfish will get better food!"

MEH. Splat's public is not impressed.

"So LAME!" they mutter.

Suddenly Splat senses that his followers are growing disenchanted. He's losing his electorate! He figures he got to up the ante on his promises. So the next day he announces that he's making some big changes. No more school buses. Everyone will have their own car to take to school. Pizza will be served in the cafeteria every day. Robot teachers will be available to do everyone's homework.

Splat is on a roll. The crowd goes wild. His presidency is going to be--HUGE!

Except--none of that is going to happen. Splat's teacher Mrs. Wimpydimple takes him for a a brief walk down the hallway and points out that there is no way he can keep those promises. Where are the cars and pizzas and robots going to come from? Splat admits he hasn't figured out how that is going to happen yet. His teacher calmly puts her hand on his shoulder.

"You can still make a difference," says Mrs. Dimpywimple.

In the latest in his books in Harper's venerable series, Rob Scotton's Splat the Cat for President (HarperCollins, 2016), Splat the Cat learns a lesson in making promises he cannot keep and considers instead the politics of the possible. With the short and easy-going text by J. E. Bright and Rick Farley and illustrations that reveal Splat's eager-to-please but perpetually anxious personality, kids will get a chuckle as they learn two lessons in leadership--"You can't please everyone" and "Don't make promises you can't keep."

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ursus Invisibilas: The Bear Who Wasn't There by Le Uyen Pham




There is no bear there. Duck steps in to inform all the other animals that bears cannot be counted upon when you need one.



Duck sets up shop, hawking his own book, The Duck Who Showed Up, but the other critters spot the ubiquitous bear tracks across the pages and are much more interested in organizing a search party for the alleged Bear. Armadillo advises the group that they are barking up the wrong book, so to speak. Weasel suggests a strategic page turn, only to come upon Duck, still pushing his own product. Anonymouse adds a sign on a nearby door:

[The Bear is in there.

P.S.: Don't worry about the the sign (PRIVATE) on the door.

Inside Giraffe is seen, seated on the toilet. Oops! Bare, but definitely not The Bear. Time for a red-faced page turn! There's an all-points call for a Bear--anywhere!

A boar? Nope! A bare hare? Har(e)dly!

Another page turn finds Giraffe back in the bathroom.


Bird tries to take over the chaos, building a composite stack of critters in the shape of a bear! Duck keeps on pushing his book. Soon a small riot of various creatures is in progress. This search party is beary much of a bust!

Someone asks the salient question: Who writes this stuff?

The paint-stained author-illustrator appears as requested.


No bear seems to be there, but Duck urges the reader to press on, right to the beary end, in LeUyen Pham's latest, The Bear Who Wasn't There (Roaring Brook Press, 2016). Intrigued young readers will follow the crowd, right to the very beary back flap of the dust jacket if need be, in this trippy tale that plays with both language and the conceptual conceits of the book itself.

In a play on the premise of the ever-popular We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Classic Board Books), Pham's illustrations of kooky critters summons readers curiosity and give us an elusive ursus who manages to be the metafictional star of the show without really making a personal on-page appearance. It's an attention-grabbing read-aloud or read-alone picture book that will evoke many a chuckle with humor that ranges from the slapstick pants-down giraffe on the potty to the sophisticated, an author who comes right on page to lead the reader on. Kirkus Reviews bares the bear facts: "The wordplay is delightfully nonsensical. Look—and laugh out loud."


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Turning the Fables! Go, Pete, Go! by James Dean

It's a beautiful day, and Pete the Cat has decided to take his bike for a ride.

Nothing makes Pete happier than to feel the wind on his face.

But suddenly, Pete's peace is gone. What's that noise?


It's Turtle in a brand-new red racing car! Shouting over the roar of his engine, he has a question....


Grumpy Toad offers the excuse that his motorcycle has a flat tire. Emma says her car is way too slow. Callie has other motoring interests.

"My bus is a work of art!" she says.

But Pete the Cat is happy to take on Turtle.

"I'll do my best!" Pete says.

And the race is on. Pete the Cat pedals steadily, a smile on his face. Turtle puts the pedal to metal and is off, his race car out of sight in no time. Turtle looks back down the road, deciding to slow down and let Pete catch up. But as Pete gets close, Turtle cannot resist hitting the accelerator again and zooms off, leaving Pete in the dust.

Turtle gets so far ahead that he decides to stop at a roadside diner for a bite to eat. He is even enjoying a leisurely dessert when Pete, still pedaling along, pulls into view. Turtle jumps back into the red race car and vroooms off at top speed, while Pete stops to smell the roses.

Far down the road, Turtle is so sure of winning the race that he stops again to have a cool glass of lemonade and a bit of a rest, and soon he finds himself taking a nap.

Savvy young readers will surely know where this one is going by this point, with author James Dean flipping the fable, with Turtle as the Hare and Pete the Cat playing the part of the Tortoise who is slow and steady and wins the race after all, in Dean's Pete the Cat: Go, Pete, Go! (HaperCollins, 2016). Dean's simple and silly spoof of the old tale told long ago by Aesop will give young readers a giggle and an insight into the fable as well.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

You Otter Listen! Otter: Oh, No, Bath Time! by Sam Garton

Teddy and I love to play in the yard.

Oh, no! It looks like rain!

"Do not get muddy!" says Otter Keeper.

Otter Keeper might as well save his breath.

Of course, Otter and his plushy bear buddy are going to get on their yellow slickers and make the most of the shower.

Teddy loves to play in the rain.

Well, judging from Teddy's fixed expression and body language, he's not the one who really loves playing in the rain and mud. (He is, after all, a toy!)

But Otter loves the water. (He is, after all, an otter.) He takes Teddy splashing in the rain puddles and soon Otter Keeper makes a declaration.

"Okay, it's time for a bath!"

But Otter does not like baths. He and Teddy try to hide. They even dress up and wear their Groucho glasses with mustaches. But somehow Otter Keeper seems to recognize them and get them into the suds. And, of course, they take to it like, well, otters to water. It's just as wet and fun as the rain.

So now Otter doesn't want to get out of the bath. Otter Keeper finally has to extract them from the tub and dry them off, hair dryer and all. He orders Otter to stay stay clean and dry for the rest of the day!

But now Otter wants to take another bath. Otter Keeper, however, is not up for doing that all over again.

"NOT TODAY!" he states firmly.

But where there's a will, there's a way, and outside in the yard, there's a lovely puddle waiting at the foot of the slide and Otter knows just what to do with it, in Sam Garton's Otter: Oh No, Bath Time! (My First I Can Read) (HarperCollins, 2016), and even young emergent readers can predict what happens next, as can their parents, who likely already know that for preschoolers, it's hard to get them into the bath and even harder to get them OUT. With Garton's engaging illustrations providing the visual cues for the simple text, this is a good first reader for youngster who have already met the characters in Sam Garton's popular Otter in Space by Sam Garton, (2016-01-01)Otter Goes to School (I Am Otter), and Otter Loves Easter! (I Am Otter).

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sweet Sleep! Baby Animals Take A Nap by Marsha Diane Arnold

Upside-down nap

Inside-pouch nap

How do baby mammals grab a few winks? Let us count the ways!

Baby foxes doze sweetly and safely, hidden inside the dens that their mother and father have dug for them.

Small sloths snooze tummy-to-tummy with Mommy, whereas baby emperor penguin chicks rest upright, just leaning against a parent. Baby sea otters snooze holding hands with Mom. Baby bottlenose dolphins sleep in the deep on Mama's back while she snatches a moment of slumber, too. But baby monkeys on their moms' backs snore away while she stays on the move.

Little koalas curl up to catnap in Mother's pouch, and of course it's a baby bat who hangs head-down, wrapped in a parent's wings.

And baby humans? They especially love to snuggle in someone's arms, in Marsha Diane Arnold's brand-new Baby Animals Take a Nap (Charlesbridge, 2017). Arnold's narration, with simple but sibilant wordsmithery soothes, while the illustrations of Phyllis Tildes, with their soft-framed natural backgrounds and furry-textured animal babies sleeping under the care of a parent make a snooze seem almost irresistible. This is a sweet and lovely little board book for the very youngest, just right for bedtime or naptime.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Dark Is Rising....: The Mesmerist by Ronald L. Smith

I am the vessel, you see, through which the dead loved one will speak. Actually, it is all a sham.

Since the tragic death of her father, Jessamine Grace and her mother have eked out a life of genteel poverty, conducting faux seances to unite grieving townspeople with their dead, with Jess herself faking a trance as well as the messages on the spirit board she carries into a cabinet.

But this time the message, a verse from an old nursery song, seems both inane and yet sinister.

"Ring around the rosy, a pocketful of posies--
Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down."

And below, written in a spidery scrawl, one single letter...


With little explanation, Jessamine's mother hastily whisks her away to fog-shrouded London, to the house of a wealthy but strange man who calls himself Balthazar and who explains that an evil force led by the mythical Mephistopheles, is rising, beginning with the "rosy plague" which is killing the poor of the city, and that Jess has shown herself as a mesmerist, one endowed with powers to read minds and foresee the future.

"She is coming into her power," says Balthazar.

"What power, Mother?" I ask. I am completely flabbergasted.

Her face is ashen. "There is something I must tell you,... Your father had an ability, the same one you now seem to possess. Jess, your father and I once belonged to an order."

Jessamine's mother quickly leaves her with Balthazar, who takes her on a puzzling carriage ride through the foggy city to a secret, rather shabby house, in the London slums to meet with two other children just removed from an orphanage, Gabriel and Emily, who themselves have unusual but dubiously useful powers for the mission of fighting metaphysical evil; Gabriel sings and plays a harp, and Emily can produce light and heat at will. Also in the house is a servant girl, Darby, whom Emily whispers is a sometime werewolf.

It is all very hard to accept for Jess, whose simple life is suddenly transformed to lessons in fighting with a lash and other magical tools. But when Jess's spirit board allows her to see her own mother's murder, she swears her allegiance to the faerie Balthazar and his mission and becomes a member, like her parents, in the Order of the League of Ravens.

And her first trial comes swiftly, in a dark, deep mine, in which the three alone must fight Mephisto's alter ego Malachai Grimstead and his legions of the undead, ghouls and bitter spirits.

And then the words I have heard inside my head for so long are truly spoken aloud.

"Come to me, darkling, a child born with a black soul. Death is drawn to you.

Stand by my side, darkling, and I will show you how to walk beyond death."

Author Ronald K, Smith's forthcoming magical thriller, The Mesmerist (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2017), makes good use of the drear, foggy, and maleficent Victorian scene to tell a fast-moving, yet allegorical tale, in a setting where a Manichean cosmogony of the forces of evil against good are recapitulated, with the aid of Gabriel, whom we might suspect is the angel Gabriel, and Emily the spirit of Light, help the heroine confront her own personal darkness and evil itself. Even the poor housemaid Darby is herself a symbol of the struggle between good and evil within humans, a theme which savvy veterans of the Harry Potter series will certainly recognize as familiar.

With a vastly different setting but a premise similar to his highly-reviewed Hoodoo (see review here), Smith skillfully builds upon those archetypal tropes--the brink-of-adolescence hero with dead or lost parents, the sudden interjection of hidden metaphysical powers, the magical mentor who offers counsel and training but sends the protagonist forth on his or her own mission, with the help of powerful young friends, to the ultimate trial with the minion of evil who tempts with offers the powers of the dark side--all are here as they were from this genre's deep roots in Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and Susan Cooper, whose The Dark Is Rising series provides the pivotal plot point for this suspenseful fantasy novel.

Lovers of those dark-side English fantasy classics will be drawn to The Mesmerist, which will also surely please recent fans of Catherine Jinks' How to Catch a Bogle and sequels, (also Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Robert Beatty's currently best-selling Serafina and the Black Cloak and Serafina and the Twisted Staff (Serafina Book 2). (Hyperion).

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rockin! Robins! How They Grow Up by Eileen Christelow

We're robins!

Our black and white speckles mean we're young--a few months old.

Robin teenagers! Why are we living in your yard? Well, here's the story.

"First, Let's tell about Dad's long trip."

Just like most humans, when the family is moving house, Dad goes ahead to find just the right place to call their own.

"He looked for safe places to hide from predators... and good wormy soil."

But when it comes to building the house, Mom is sure to arrive for a say in the construction. No, they can't build in a still-leafless tree with no privacy from predators! And Mom takes charge of the nest, a cradle for her babies. She gets down and dirty, adding mud for structural security, and lining it with soft, fluffy grasses or moss to make it warm and comfy. Only then does she settle down to lay her eggs, and she comes prepared with a plucked place on her belly to transfer her own warmth to her developing little ones. A mom's got to do what a mom's got to do!

"That's her brood patch!"

It's a tough world out there for eggs. A squirrel takes one, and the brood is down to three. And as soon as Mom helps the chicks hack out of their eggs with their temporary egg teeth, they start to clamber to be fed--on yumsome regurgitated worm!

Mom and Dad tag team each other, trying to protect the chicks from predators and yet keep themselves and the babies fed. The parents also have to do the robins' version of diaper changes--carrying away little white poop sacks to keep the nest clean. The babies grow very fast and add warm fluff and then true feathers as fast as they can to keep them warm and dry and ready to fly. In only two weeks the three are already perching on the edge of the nest, flapping their wings. Soon one takes the great leap...

He's flying!
                    Down, down, down.

Thwump!"Where is everyone?"

Mom chup, chups, and flies down to lead him to a safe bush... just as a cat leaps from a patch of flowers. Dad calls out his CHIP, CHIP warning and divebombs the ginger tom and chases him away for the moment. And soon all three chicks are genuine fledglings, out of the nest, but still dependent on their parents for their three squares a day. Teaching the youngsters how to rustle up their own grub(s) falls mostly to Dad, since Mom is already building a new home for the next nestlings.

Hard-working Dad does his best as a single parent, responding to the frantic cheeps of his three fledglings still working on real flight and watching for predators. Despite Dad's best efforts one of the three falls prey to a hawk. Now the brood is down to two, who must master strong, controlled flights and supporting themselves on bugs and worms, learning to follow the grownups who chow down on late summer berries and fruit, and hanging out mostly with the other adolescent robins who, like human teens, love to chat.

"Hey! You're losing your speckled feathers!"

"We're molting!"

And with fresh, mature feathers, the young adult robins are finally off with the flock for the winter, in Eileen Christelow's forthcoming and captivating nonfiction nature book, Robins!: How They Grow Up (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2017), delightfully digitally illustrated in the piquant style that graces so many of her famous picture books.

Christelow alternates full-bleed left-side page illustrations with cartoon frames on right-hand pages which graphically show an event in action in the lives of her robins, with avian adventures shown in active frame-by-frame style. There is much robin lore included in Christelow's skillful narration, enlivened by the humor in her speech bubbles, featuring the remarks of her cheeky 'tweener robins and filled with their living-dangerous adventures on each spread.

Somewhere in almost every primary grade curriculum sequence comes a unit on backyard birds, and Christelow's newest carefully crafted book introduces bird lore to youngsters, coming as it does at just the right time of year for classroom use. For savvy third graders there is plenty of information in the glossary, bibliography, and appended section, "More About Robins!" to qualify for a dandy non-fiction science book report, and for the independent reader this one is a pleasurable entree into nature science in an accessible, kid-friendly format. Christelow's fresh entry is as welcome as the first robin in spring!

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Missing! Love Matters Most by Mij Kelley and Gerry Tulley

Why is the bear staring into the night

At a world that is a chillier sight?

She's looking for something.

She plods purposefully away from her den, into icy, frosty, windy landscape, with no living thing in sight, except for a small yellow bird. What would make a bear walk out into a storm? Could it be the dried red berries on a bush? The bird perches among them, but the bear presses on past them.

She follows the icy shore, the tall dark pines standing starkly along the foot of the mountains, white against the deep, dark blue sky. She comes to a stream, where salmon are leaping in silvery flashes from the icy waters.

Is this what she came for?

No. She seems to follow the yellow bird who flies on ahead as if scouting for her, now and then perching on a twig to wait for her to catch up.

She's searching for someone.


And there is her missing baby, lost, but now found. Love finds the way, in Mij Kelley's and Gerry Tulley's Love Matters Most (Little, Brown and Company, 2016), a sweet story of mother love. Kelley's and Tulley's illustrations are striking, done mostly in a palette of pale gray snow, white snowflakes, and a pale blue sea, brightened by touches of the dark blue-green evergeens, an intriguing swirl of the northern lights, red berries, and the bright yellow of the faithful bird. Mother and child are back together again, and that is what matters most.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mom On the Case: The Runaway Bunny (75th Anniversary Edition) by Margaret Wise Brown




Bunny is feeling a bit adventurous--and perhaps a bit argumentative.


Mother Bunny responds that she will become a fisherman and catch him in her net. Unabashed, Bunny continues, saying he will become a sailboat on the sea, and Mother Bunny's comeback is that she will become the wind. Now who's in charge here?

Bunny challenges, saying that he will run away to become a rock on the high mountain, and Mother Bunny says she will be a mountain climber.

That's a hard one to top, but Bunny tries, stating that HE will be a trapeze artist in the circus, but Mother takes it to a higher level, claiming she'll be the tightrope walker on the high wire.

Well! What if Bunny becomes a boy who runs into the house? Mother Bunny happily reports that she'll be there to give him a hug!


Second only to Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny: A 75th Anniversary Retrospective (Harper, 2017) was among the first to use the character of "the little runaway," which became an oft-used picture book premise that has flourished ever since. It is fitting that this classic get a brand-new edition to delight new generations of youngsters who will respond to the calm voice and dedication of Mother Rabbit to her little rebel, and Brown's gentle illustrations are just as humorous and sweet as ever. A fine book for Easter or Mothers Day or anytime.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Gotta Love It! Olivia Dances for Joy by Natalie Shaw



Olivia and her buddies love to lark around and step out to solo with Grandma's gregarious dancers, but their minds, especially Olivia's, was set on the upcoming Maywood Dance Contest, where the Prancer Dancers always seem to win first place. Olivia is determined that this year things are going to be different. What she has to do is to shape her troupe of casual dancers into a winning team in time for the big contest.

Olivia can just see how wonderful it would be to win! There would be paparazzi, snapping pictures of them for posters and periodicals. They will be famous!

But the Prancer Dancers are practically professional, and to win against them is going to take a super-professional effort, and Olivia frets that her group just doesn't take the whole thing seriously enough. Winning is going to take hard work!

And with only five of them, they will need three more dancers to rival the Prancers.


Olivia sets forth on an emergency talent hunt. Who does she know that can dance?

She comes up with some long shots: Fred the Mailman dances with the dogs on his route; Firefighter Fred jabs out a beat on his punching bag, and their teacher Mrs. Hoggenmuller leads a mean "Locomotion" line. But what will it take to out-dance the Prancer Dancers?

Olivia learns from Grandma that her performers do better when they dance for the joy of it.


And the happy dancers steal the show with their joyful finale, In her new paperback edition of OLIVIA Dances for Joy (Olivia TV Tie-in) (Simon Spotlight, 2016), Natalie Shaw's funny story and illustrator Patrick Spaziante's portrayal of Olivia and her gang come to dance their hearts out in their cheery red costumes, and even little brother Ian joins the paparazzi in snapping photos of the happy winners.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Pete the Cat: Rock On, Mom and Dad by Rob Scutton

It's Monday and Pete the Cat is late for school.

His alarm clock didn't go off!

Does Pete have to worry?

No. Dad has prepared Pete's breakfast and Mom has his backpack all ready to go.

Pete is going to make the bus!

Pete realizes that his parents do a lot of things for him. Dad drives him to guitar lessons, and Mom takes him to practice baseball with the team. Pete wants to do something really, really special, something, well, awesomefor them.

But what can Pete the Cat do that is awesome? He asks his big brother Bob for some ideas, and Bob comes through with quite an idea.

What can Pete do better than any other cat?

Rock out!

And rock out Pete the Cat does, in Rob Scotton's Pete the Cat: Rock On, Mom and Dad! (HarperCollins, 2016), playing and singing to tell his mom and dad that they are awesome for teaching him to love art and music and that he loves them--with all his heart. Scotton's groovy Pete plays and sings his own hearty appreciation for his parents, in a short and sweet thank-you note to all those moms and dads who make all the good stuff possible.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Love Letters! ABC Love by Christiane Engel

Follow us through the alphabet and discover different ways to show love.

February is the time to think about the feelings of the heart,
And learning their own love letters is a kid's way to start.

F is for Friends, to stay best friends forever!

In her new ABC Love: An endearing twist on learning your ABCs! (Quarto Publishing, 2017), author Christiane Engel gives youngsters a look at the letters of love. No, it's not those secret romantic billets-doux from a sweetheart, but the sweet words of love and kindness for every letter of the alphabet.

In this little board book, G is for Giggle, laughing with a friend, and H is definitely for Hug. J is for the Joy that dear ones bring, which could involve a K for Kiss! But love also includes nuances, such as N for Nurture, and S for Share, U for Understanding, a W for Welcome, a warm one for a loved one, and X is for lots of XOXOXOs at the bottom of that Valentine you are ready to send to a friend or to a loved one. This little ABC books is a sweet for the sweet, with not a bit of sugar, but almost as warm as an E for Embrace.

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