Halloween Treats

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Halloween is tomorrow and that means that bats, ghosts, monsters, and spiders abound.

The illustrations help to tell the tale in Nightsong by author Ari Berk and artist Loren Long. (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, $17.99) Young Chiro is a bat that must venture out in the wild for the first time without his mother by his side. She advises him to uses his “good sense” and that he does. In doing so, despite the darkness of the adventure, Chiro is aware of the geese that fly above him and the river below. Chiro’s song helps him to find food and return to the safety of his cave and his mother’s love. Computer generated paintings help to sense the vulnerability of the young bat as he ventures on this rite of passage.

Authors Maggie Mille and Michael Leviton decide to take a humorous approach to “things that go bump into the night,” with My First Ghost. (Disney Hyperion Books, $16.99) Treating the apparition as a pet, a young boy explains how to take care of a ghost should you choose to invite one into your home. Stephanie Buscema illustrates the lessons and responsibilities of taking care of ghosts. Be aware that ghosts may be afraid of kids, parents, the dark, and monsters. They do not eat or drink but do invite them to accompany you when you dine. Ghosts are friendly and enjoy playing and if you treat them right, they “will haunt your forever.”

Standing in the corner, takes on a new meaning in Time Out for Monsters by Jean Reidy and Robert Neubecker. (Disney Hyperion Books, $16.99) Deciding that the corner (for punishment) needs embellishment, it becomes a mural for trucks, cupcakes, and lots of monsters. Wonder if Mom will enjoy this new addition to the house?

It is the tenth anniversary for the Caldecott Honor book, “The Spider and the Fly” awarded to illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi. Based on a the classic 1829 poem by Mary Howitt, the black and white illustrations make this the perfect book to enjoy on this Halloween holiday. “Will you walk into my parlor?’ said the Spider to the Fly, ‘T’s the prettiest parlor that ever you did spy; the way to my parlor is up a winding stair, and I have many curious thing to show you when you are there.”

Fancy About Felines

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Fuddles

Cats may not be “man’s best friend,” but they make good main characters for stories.

For those people who do LOVE cats, they will enjoy reading Fuddles by artist Frans Vischer. (Aladdin, $15.99) Fuddles is your basic pampered pet. He is overweight, spending his time eating, sleeping, and using the litter box. One day Fuddles decides it is time for an adventure. After viewing the outside world for a time, he desires to be part of it and in an accidental moment, he escapes. Of course all is not what it seems and Fuddles has to find a way to return to what is true and familiar.

“Trying to kick the catnip habit? Itching to ditch those pesky fleas? Sick of the same old ‘fetch, roll over, stay’ routine?” Then perhaps Dear Tabby (Harper, $16.99) by Carolyn Crimi and illustrator David Roberts is just what you need. The canine advisor is not limited to expounding advice to fellow cats; Tabby D. Cat is available to all animals in need. He counsels a depressed dog to chase his tale, a skunk to patiently wait for a gal with good “scents,” and a repeat letter writer to accept the plight that domestic cats have and be grateful for regular food and warm sweaters. Tabby’s advice is common sense and he even steps up to the plate and offers himself, as the situation warrants.

Trying to stick a square peg into a round hole is the theme of Square Cat by Elizabeth Schoonmaker. (Aladdin, $14.99) Square Cat is unhappy, not able to fit into mouse holes, always tipping over and looking quite short in heels. Her round cat friends show her that by constantly trying to be what she isn’t she continues to be unhappy. Round cats can’t fit into mouse holes either, checkerboard sweater look dazzling on a square cat, and there are famous paintings of four sided felines. They make excellent square dancers; all helping show the Square Cat that we each have our own unique qualities.

Letters + Words = Stories

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Letters and words make up sentences and ultimately may create a story. These authors and illustrators have fun with just those ideas: letters and words.

Letters are all over the book, Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Caldecott Winning artist Paul O. Zelinsky. (Greenwillow Books, $16.99) The book opens looking like a typical ABC book, “A is for Apple, B is for Ball, and C is for Cat,” but on the “D” page is “D is for Moose.” Zebra informs Moose that he “does not start with D.” At first Moose is contrite and enters moving with subtleness from page to page until “M.” M is for Mouse.” What? Moose is astounded and then furious. He stomps through the next pages causing havoc to “N, O, and P.” Then he begins to cross out the letters so that “R is for Moose, S is for Moose,” and so forth until he gets to the “Z” page. The conflict resolves itself and the reader learns about friendship.

Author and illustrator Jim Averbeck entertains and informs with a single theme in Except If. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.99) The story begins, “An egg is not a baby bird, but it will become one, except if it becomes a baby snake.” This is a circular story in that the text shares a fact, then includes an exception until it concludes by returning to its original premise – an egg is not a baby bird except if. This provides a wonderful opportunity for the learner to predict what will happen next.

A lonely boy wishes for a friend in I’m Here by author and artist Peter H. Reynolds. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.99) The words of the story are transformed by such literary elements as alliteration, onomatopoeia, personification, and sensory imagery. “Can you hear it? Voices. Splashes upon splashes of sound.” The sound is children playing ball but one young boy is not part of the group. “They are there. I am here.”  The dilemma is how to direct the children’s attention to here. A “sailing paper glides from the air,” providing a resolution.

Using words to encourage is the goal of Jerry Spinelli in I Can Be Anything with bright colorful artwork from Jimmy Liao. (Little, Brown, and Company Books for Young Readers, $16.99) A young boy wonders, “When I grow up, what shall I be?” He then dreams of a plethora of ideas from “dandelion blower” to “bubblegum popper,” to “best part saver.” The illustrations are particularly important in visualizing how such occupations would be.

Tweens

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I’m often told that it takes a special person to appreciate middle school aged children. I’m not sure about that, but they sure are great to teach. These authors think they’re pretty good as leading characters in their books.

Written by middle school teacher Kate Messmer is The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. (Walker & Company, $16.99) A leaf collection is central to the story of a typical middle school student, Gianna. A cross-country runner, it is important that Gianna has all of her schoolwork completed to be able to participate in the cross-country sectionals. Organization is not Gianna’s strong suit and when Bianca, the blond rich girl, wants Gianna’s place, her life becomes more complicated. Add to that Nonna, Gianna’s grandmother, begins forgetting important things. To keep her head straight, Gianna and her best friend Zig begin thinking of people as trees and what they learn helps her to do the right thing at the right time.

Serenity holds in family secrets in What Momma Left Me by Renée Watson. (Bloomsbury, $16.99) Her mother is dead and daddy has gone missing. Serenity worries that she and her younger brother Danny are just like their parents. Danny can get very angry sometimes. The two are taken in by their maternal grandparents and become PK or “Preacher’s Kids.” Their new life revolves around church and a new school but despite a strong support system, bad things continue to happen to the teens. The faith of their grandparents help Serenity and Danny to realize that they have choices in life and do not necessarily “repeat the sins of their fathers.” Watson’s story will resonate with many middle school children who may believe they are the only family with problems and secrets.

A more humorous style is The Clueless Girl’s Guide to Being a Genius by Janice Repka. (Dutton, $16.99) This is the story of two thirteen-year-old girls. Aphrodite is a mathematical genius, a graduate of Harvard, who decides to test out a theory at her local middle school. Mindy is good at baton twirling but math is a challenge. The girls meet when Aphrodite takes over the remedial math class. Her theory is E + C = MW (Effort + Confidence = Math Whiz). After a bad start, Mindy sets Aphrodite straight and the two girls form a bond. Aphrodite helps Mindy with Math, but Mindy helps Aphrodite recoup some of the childhood she left behind.

The Season of Baseball

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Labor Day is here and the baseball season is winding down, so perhaps reading about the subject is appropriate.

Kathryn Fitzmaurice combines two topics in her book, A Diamond in the Desert. (Viking, &16.99) The setting is 1942, Gila River Camp, in the desert of Arizona. Twelve-year old Tetsu and his family have been reassigned to the camp because they are of Japanese heritage. Tetsu’s father has been taken to North Dakota for questioning due to his prominence in the Japanese community in which they lived in California. Lack of privacy and nothing to do makes for very long days. When a former baseball coach decides to build a field, Tetsu jumps in. It takes them a long time to clear the earth of its many rocks, use flour to mark the field, and make a backstop. When all is done Tetsu is excited and wants nothing more than to play but when he does that instead of helping his younger sister, she ends of lost and sick. Is baseball to blame? Fitzmaurice helps readers to understand the day-to-day existence of camp life for a people bound by the insecurities and fears of a nation. Ironically America’s favorite pastime offers a respite.

Who Was Babe Ruth? (Grossett & Dunlap, $4.99) by Joan Holub offers some answers. The legendary baseball player was not your typical athlete. He was overweight and partied too hard but despite these traits he could hit homeruns and that is why Babe Ruth is still remembered. Born George Herman Ruth, in 1895 in Maryland, Babe found himself in trouble a lot! So much so, that his family eventually placed him into a Catholic boy’s home. There he came under the notice of Brother Matthias. The monk started a baseball team to keep the rowdy boys busy and eight year old Babe was so good, he played with the twelve year olds. After leaving the home, he was able to pick up a contract with Baltimore Orioles, making more money than his trained profession of tailor. The rest as they say is history!

Avid baseball fan, Peter Golenbock writes The ABC’s of Baseball with beautiful illustrations by Dan Andreasen. (Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99) I always look for certain letters, k, q, and x for example to see how they were used to teach more of a topic. Golenbock shares multiple items for the letter if it pertains to baseball but these letters are always a challenge. “K is short for Strikeout,” “Q” is Questions and Quotations and “Z” shares the way baseballs are seamed together.

Latino author Gary Soto takes on a family of baseball loving bunnies in Lucky Luis. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99) Paintings by Rhode Montijo tell the story of little leaguer Luis who decides that he needs to eat a grocery store food sample (tryouts) or his playing will be affected. His family helps him to realize that baseball is about “practice and listening to your coach,” and lots of family support!

Happy Birthday United States!

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Today is July 4th, the two hundred thirty-sixth birthday of our nation. We continue to thrive because of the contributions of many.

Authors Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee allude to some of these people in Giant Steps to Change the World. (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.99) “On some days your dreams may seem far away to realize. Listen to the whispers of those who came before… those who had hard days but dared to make their dreams come true.” Artist Sean Qualls uses a somewhat abstract style to help the reader learn of freedom fighters on the Underground Railroad, teachers who teach the unteachable, and a heavyweight who was peacemaker. These are just some of the people despite trials and troubles dreamed of a just world.

Another husband and wife team, Lesa Cline-Ransome and award winning illustrator James Ransome created Words Set Me Free, the Story of Young Frederick Douglass. (A Paula Wiseman Books, $16.99) Young Frederick grew up on a plantation in Maryland with his grandmother. Life was hard but when Frederick was eight he was sent to help a couple in Baltimore. Unused to slaves, the mistress treated Frederick like a paid servant, even teaching his to read, until her husband explained that “If you teach him how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.” Those words really didn’t come true until Frederick was fifteen and decided it was time to make a run to the North. His ability to read and write helped to create false paperwork that proved his mastered had freed him. Today we know that Frederick Douglass’ way with words proved to be an important part of ridding the practice of slavery in the United States.

Josephine Baker had to leave the United States to fulfill her potential and leave an effect on those who knew her. Her story is told in the rhythm is known for in Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter with Illustrations by Caldecott Award winning artist, Marjorie Priceman. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.99) Born in St. Louis listening to and living the blues, Josephine could dance. She tried to outrun the sad situation of African Americans in the early part of the twentieth century, making it all the way to New York City. There she performed but had to dance in clownish ways wearing black face. Deciding that she had had enough Josephine went to Paris and became a hit. American born and raised but it took the French to understand that Josephine Baker had talent. Josephine eventually returned to the states fighting for civil rights, even speaking at the same event in Washington D.C. where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Today is Father’s Day. Perhaps a little father/child reading time with be special?

Using the style of the famous Christmas poem, Natasha Wing writes The Night Before Father’s Day with pictures from Amy Wummer. (Grossett & Dunlap, $3.99) Readers follow an evening when Mom and the kids are busily preparing for a special day. They are very, very busy helping to give dad just what he wants. Hint: they spend most of their time in the garage.

Author Alan Lawrence Sitomer writes, Daddies Do It Different with illustrations from Abby Carter. (Disney Hyperion, $16.99) A young girl relates the various activities that take up her day. She gives credit to both parents but while Mommy is organized and extra careful, Daddy is spontaneous. For example, Mommy uses breakfast as a time to “talk about our plans for the day.” Daddy makes a fort with the waffles! Mommy leaves the house with a tasty snack as Daddy looks for his cell phone. Mommy washes her little girl from top to bottom, using a fluffy towel to dry her thoroughly. Daddy uses the detached sprayer to makes “a billion bubbles.” Despite their differences both do something the same and that is what is most important.

Another little girl describes her father in I Love My Daddy by Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd. (Disney Hyperion, $12.99) As the day passes, the reader sees this special daddy as he makes pancakes, plays horsies, swings, and watches T.V. because Mom is not there. The illustrations picture a dad who is not afraid to be silly and spend quality time with the one who is special in his life.

A young boy is the narrator of When Dads Don’t Grow Up by Marjorie Blain Parker and pictures from R. W. Alley. (Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99) The concept is similar to the two previous books in that dads can be silly and enjoy such pursuits as rock throwing and golfing in the rain.

William is not a father but has to act as one to his three younger siblings in William’s Midsummer Dreams by awarding winning author, Zilpha Keatley Snyder. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.99) It is 1939 in a Gold Beach, a small community in California, where William fled to with his sisters Jancy, and Trixie, and his brother, Buddy. After their mother died, the four were left with four older but abusive brothers. William believed their only way out was to escape to their maternal Aunt Fiona’s house. All seem to be adjusting until William gets his dream summer apprenticing at a Shakespeare Theater Company away from home. While William is having a great time playing Puck form A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Jancy writes that is absence is having an affect on their younger brother. Buddy seems to be taking on the qualities of his half-brothers. What’s a poor fourteen-year old supposed to do, when he is the “father?”