6.30.2012

Wumbers by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated Tom Lichtenheld


The dedication to WUMBERS by Amy Krouse Rosenthal with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld reads:

We dedic8 this book 2 William Steig, the cre8tor of C D B! (cer10ly the inspiration for this book) and so many other cla6.

I am thrilled that Rosenthal and Lichtenheld (the duo who brought us the fantastic Duck! Rabbit! and Yes Day! as well as It's Not Fair and the OK Book) have given a nod to Steig and brought his books back into the spotlight with their book, WUMBERS (words + numbers.) And, with the language of texting has becoming so prevalent, this book will be an easy-breezy read. For the intended audience of this book, parents and little kids, WUMBERS will be the riddle-ish word play that is was meant to be.


I think you get the idea of WUMBERS without me giving too much more away. Buy this book. Have fun reading it with your kids. Then come up with some wumbers of your own!

Source: Review Copy from Publisher



William Steig's 
inspirational, very fun books 
and still in print!


6.29.2012

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs, 290 pp, Rl 5


Spy School is the newest novel from Stuart Gibbs. His second novel, Belly Up, about mysterious animal deaths at a zoo caught my eye both for its original plot idea and for the potential humor the jacket flap promised. Although I have yet to read  Belly Up, I can tell you that Spy School is funny, action packed and an intelligent book about intelligence and is so good that I plan to read all of Mr Gibbs' books asap.

Spy School begins with a heavily redacted document from the Office of the CIA International Investigations regarding Operation Creeping Badger and a twelve-year old named Benjamin Ripley and ends with one. In between, from January 16 to February 10, we get the fantastic story of Ben Ripley and his life as a spy in training at the CIA Academy of Espionage in Washington DC. But, before he is inducted into the Academy, he discovers a man in a tuxedo sitting on his living room couch when he gets home from school. The man introduces himself as Alexander Hale and, aside from his seeming penchant for sports drinks, he has a definite James Bond air about him. Hale explains that, because of Ben's frequent visits to the CIA website, high scores on the games, genius math skills, ability to speak three languages and heretofore untapped gift for cryptology, he has been recruited to attend the Academy. The fact that this is happening mid-year is brushed off by Hale (as is the condition of the student who's place Ben is taking.) As Hale and Ben pull onto the school grounds he is caught up in an attack, shot at and tackled by a fellow student who smells like an "intoxicating combination of lilacs and gun powder." She gives him a taser and sends him to the principal's office to alert the higher ups of the invasion. As Ben bursts into the office after using his taser to disable the computer locking the door, he is greeted by the administrative staff of the school. He is informed that he has received a D- on his SACSA (Survival and Combat Skills Assessment) and thinks to himself, "a mere twenty-three minutes after my arrival at spy school, I had learned something extremely important about it: it wasn't going to be easy."

I have to admit that I haven't read many books about espionage, for kids or adults, but I have the feeling that, if you are going to write a spy book these days, you have to have an angle. Since Ian Fleming opened up a world of cliches surrounding spies with his creation James Bond (in fact, one of the many funny bits in Spy School is the label "Fleming," which is what you are called if you arrive at spy school thinking you're actually going to "become James Bond") I'm not sure if you can write a straight spy story anymore. I love the direction that Gibbs takes Spy School in and it is one that will definitely appeal to older readers (11 - 14) whereas Michael Buckley's equally fantastic but very different (and soon to be reviewed here) N.E.R.D.S. series of books about spy kids is perfect for younger readers, especially those with reading skills higher than their grade level. Spy School is every bit as funny as Buckley's books, but in a drier and slier way. In a class titled "Introduction to Self-Preservation," a lecture on how to avoid ninjas begins with the instruction to "Stay out of Japan." A game of capture the flag finds Ben and a classmate planning to scale a wall. When she pulls a grappling hook out of her backpack and asks, "I assume you know how to use this?" Ben thinks to himself, "I didn't. I'd never even seen a grappling hook until that moment. Not outside of the movies. I couldn't even imagine where she'd got it. I'd never noticed a grappling hook store - or a grappling hook section at Target - in my life." Then there is a self-explanatory self-defense move called the "Bashful Armadillo." And, my favorite, "'Hogarth's Theory of fear-based urination': The amount of danger you are in is directly proportional to your need to pee." 

Without giving too much away, I can tell you that Spy School is set in a highly secretive Academy that trains teens to become CIA agents once they graduate and that the enemies are not foreign agents but the school administration and Ben's own classmates. After nearly failing his SACSA test, Ben is bullied by an upperclassman as he unpacks his dorm room. The whole school seems to know about Ben's stellar cryptology skills and Chip wants him to hack the school's mainframe, cracking the "rotating sixteen-character daisy-chain password protecting the firewall." Ben is rescued from the seemingly demented Chip by Murray Hill, a slacker classmate who's goal is to obtain a desk job with the CIA and retire young (and rich) by getting bad grades in classes that require physical exertion. Later that night, an assassin enters Ben's room and, despite a shot being fired, Ben talks (and hacks with a tennis racket) his way out of the dangerous situation. As the story unfolds, Ben is befriended, although entirely in secret, by Erica Hale, the upperclass mate who smells like lilacs and gunpowder and also happens to be the daughter of Alexander Hale. Erica is dead serious about spy school and uncovering the mystery behind Ben's admittance to the Academy. When it's clear that Ben's life is in danger, he is moved out of his dorm room and into "The Box," an underground holding cell for dangerous prisoners that Erica is able to infiltrate. The mystery of who is after Ben and what the endgame for Operation Creeping Badger is had me reading breathlessly to the end of the book. In the absence of impossibly unrealistic spy gear, Gibbs does create a very cool maze of underground tunnels and rooms that extend beyond the grounds of the school. But what I like most about Spy School is that the kids have to use their brains to figure out what's going on. And, while Ben thought he was a pretty smart kid before entering the Academy, when he's in a school full of really smart kids and forced to use his brains in a new way, and things get very interesting. Although it was a struggle from start to finish for Ben and he has quite a few down moments, I hope that he gets to stay at the Academy and that Gibbs' has another book Spy School book in the works!

BREAKING NEWS!!!! 
BEN & ERICA WILL BE BACK IN 2013!!!


Here's the blurb from Stuart Gibbs' website:

Ben Ripley is back for more adventure, more mayhem — and more hilarity.  Now, he’s spending the summer at the Academy’s of Espionage’s top secret outdoor education facility, aka ‘Spy Camp.’  But any hopes he has for a relaxing break from spy school are quickly dashed when SPYDER resurfaces — and this time, the evil organization is targeting Ben himself.  It isn’t long before Ben finds himself on the run in the wilderness with both Erica and Alexander Hale in tow.  Can they survive long enough to figure out SPYDER’s fiendish plot this time?


More books by Stuart Gibbs:






6.28.2012

Clink, manufactured by Kelly DiPucchio and Matthew Myers and BOY + BOT by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino

I love a good robot book, especially when it is brilliantly illustrated. And, while these stories and their illustrations are pretty different, both picture books are wonderfully written, brilliantly illustrated and very much worth reading. And reading. And reading.




clink by Kelly DiPucchio is the story of an old robot ("even his dust had rust," "even his creaks made squeaks,") wasting away inside the Robot Shoppe as he waits to go home with someone who needs him. DiPucchio takes what could have been a  story we've heard before and adds some charming, unique elements that makes this a book you won't mind reading over and over again and a book your kids will remember long into adulthood. Working with these details, Matthew Myers brings the little robot that makes (mostly burnt) toast and plays music to life and makes him utterly endearing, if, like me, robots are your thing... Myers has a rich, painterly style of illustration that gives clink a retro feel that works perfectly with the story. The other 'bots imagined by DiPucchio are fantastic and fantastically illustrated by Myers. Zippy can play baseball and clean the house, Penny can make chocolate chip cookies and do homework and Blade can cut and style hair.



When a young boy makes several visits to the shop but never buys a 'bot, the shop owner tries to tempt him with fancier, newer robots, but the boy is not swayed. Clink has all but given up on life and shut himself down, but when he hears the boy playing the harmonica (with a superb illustration by Myers that shows Clink's reflection in the shiny harmonica) something inside him wakes up. I love robot stories and there are so few out there, probably because it's not a very versatile subject for a story. Nevertheless, DiPucchio's story is full of imagination, inspiration and affection. And I am so thrilled to have discovered Matthew Myers' and his fantastic artwork! He reminds me of a mix of a few of my longtime favorite children's book illustrators, Adam Rex, Mark Teague and David Shannon and I love the way you can almost see the layers of paint that go into his illustrations. For a very cool glimpse into Myer's method, click How I Work to see his process, which includes wading through garbage to find just the right surface (the lid to a toilet basin in this case) to paint on! I can't wait to see Myer's next book, Bartholomew Biddle and the Very Big Wind by Gary Ross that's due out November of this year. If you have a minute, the book trailer for clink is short, sweet and perfectly scored. Best of all, clink has BLUEPRINTS in the front of the book (as seen in the trailer) and a nifty little advertisement on the back cover. 





Boy + Bot 


Boy + Bot, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino is a clever take on the realm of robots but also a subtle story about differences and similarities. Dan Yaccarino's cheerfully bright palette and crisp style are perfectly suited to this sweet story.
Actually, Boy + Bot is also very funny. When a boy, out in the woods collecting pinecones, meets a robot, they become fast friends despite their differences. When Bot accidentally gets turned off, the boy takes him home in his wagon with the hopes of reviving/repairing him. There is a very funny scene which strikes me as a uniquely kid-like gesture, when the boy feeds the unresponsive Bot applesauce. The boy gives up and goes to sleep and this is when Bot's power switch gets bumped on. Then it's Bot's turn to worry about the boy. Just as Bot is about to try to put a fresh battery in the boy, his inventor comes in and sets everything straight. Then we are treated to Yaccarino's joyful illustrations as the pair plays together, sharing in their similarities and allowing for their differences. I made  Boy + Bot sound more didactic than it is. While there is a subtle message, Boy + Bot is really just a fantastic story that is fun to look at and fun to read.


6.26.2012

House Held Up By Trees, written by Ted Kooser with illustrations by Jon Klassen


 
House Held Up By Trees is the second picture book by former National Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser. Kooser's first picture book, Bag in the Wind, is a wonderful story in and of itself, but carries with is a subtle message about the value and importance of reusing our resources. Bag in the Wind is illustrated by Barry Root in mostly quiet, somber colors that reflect the tone of the story as well as the rural setting. Kooser lives in Garland, Nebraska and, as he says on the title page of House Held Up By Trees, "Not far from here, I have seen a house held up by the hands of trees. This is its story." For House Held Up By Trees, the fantastic Jon Klassen draws from his familiar earth toned palette to illustrate this book in a similarly quiet but powerful way. After you read House Held Up By Trees, go back and read it again, this time just looking at the illustrations, and notice how Klassen tells the story of the house visually, presenting it from different angles, even aerial. In this way, the illustrations of the house convey emotion and tell the story of the man who lived in the house that then becomes the story of the house without the man as this inanimate object is imbued with meaning.


Kooser tells the story of House Held Up By Trees in a way that reminded me immediately of the invaluable Virginia Lee Burton's Caldecott winner from 1943, The Little House, with an echo of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. However, as he did with Bag in the Wind, Kooser takes a story that has potential for emotional friction and tells it as it is in his straightforwardly  poetic fashion.

House Held Up By Trees begins, "When it was new, the house stood alone on a bare square of earth. There was a newly planted lawn around it, but not a single tree to give shade in the summer or rattle its bare twigs in the winter cold. There had been trees there once, but all of them had been cut down to make room for the house. Even the stumps had been pulled up and burned." There are children living in the house, trees on either side of it and a father who works hard to keep his lawn perfect, pulling shoots and weeds and mowing, even after a day of hard work away from home. But, trees "are not so easily discouraged, however, and every summer they would send more seeds flying his way." As the children grow up and closer to leaving home, it seemed the "harder their father worked on his lawn." Then, one day they are long gone and he decides it is time to leave as well. He would, "find an apartment in the city, maybe somewhere near his son and daughter. And maybe they'd invite him over for dinner once in a while." He puts a "For Sale" sign up in front of his house.

But the house sits empty and little trees begin sprouting here and there on the lawn. It seems that "nobody wanted to buy the house. Nobody could explain why, but it just didn't seem like a house where anybody wanted to live. That happens sometimes." Nature takes over and Kooser's writing becomes even more lovely. "Some of the seeds had sprouted along the foundation, where the water ran off the roof and into a deep crack, and these little trees were soon saplings, pressed against the side of the house. When the wind blew, they waved back and forth, making dark arcs on the fading paint." As the weather wears the house down and it begins to collapse in on itself, the "young trees kept it from falling apart, and as they grew bigger and stronger, they held it together as if it was a bird's nest in the fingers of their branches. And very gradually, the growing trees began to lift the house off its foundation."  Kooser ends his story saying, "The trees lifted and lifted it, and maybe you will drive past it today or tomorrow, as it floats there above the ground like a tree house, a house in the trees, a house held together by the strength of trees, and the wind blowing, perfumed by the little green flowers."

Beautiful. Almost magical, but just a bit too practical for that kind of word. Ted Kooser is a masterful story teller in miniature which, if you think about it, is what a poet does with a poem. Kooser's skills seem perfectly suited for the picture book format and I can't think of a better written, more significant picture book that has been written in the last few years. This is a book to give as a gift, a book that will imprint upon the memory of a child and stay with that child for years to come. A book the grown child will seek out decades later to read to new children. A classic.

Enjoy these images from Jon Klassen's website, Burst of Beaden.


HOUSE HELD UP BY TREES. Text copyright © 2012 by Ted Kooser. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

6.25.2012

The Whispering House, by Rebecca Wade, 260 pp, RL 4

I snapped up Rebecca Wade's The Whispering House and devoured it for two very pertinent reasons. First, as a bookseller, I have noticed over the last year or so that ghost stories have become very popular with readers of middle grade fiction. Also, I loved ghost stories when I was a kid. The two that left the greatest impression on me were Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp and the Newbery Honor winner The Headless Cupid, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. These days, Mary Downing Hahn has a corner on supernatural stories for kids who have outgrown Goosebumps but are too young for young adult books. This means that Wade's The Whispering House is a very welcome addition to the shelves. One thing I loved about ghost stories as a kid were the ones that kept you guessing as to whether there was a genuine haunting going on or a series of coincidences, accidents and sneaky, creepy characters making lit look like a ghost was afoot. That way, when I was done reading I could look around my room, peer into the dark corners and feel that delicious chill that you get when you are scaring yourself. Rebecca Wade captures this duality wonderfully with The Whispering House, her second book. Wade, who's day job is playing viola with the Philharmonic Orchestra in England, also wrote The Theft and the Miracle, which also featured Hannah and Sam, main characters of The Whispering House. I didn't know this until I finished reading The Whispering House and it didn't affect my enjoyment at all. In fact, there were references to a mysterious, dangerous event some eighteen months earlier involving Hannah, Sam, a statue that went missing from the town cathedral, the police, a bishop and a math teacher who is also a bit of a witch, that were intriguing but not crucial to following the plot of The Whispering House. One aspect of the book that I suspect was explained more thoroughly in The Theft and the Miracle, and one that I would like to know more about, is Hannah's drawing skills. An accomplished artist, she sketches often in The Whispering House and her drawings sometimes seem to have a clairvoyant capacity to act as a connection between worlds that I never fully understood. However, this small plot point did not diminish my enjoyment of The Theft and the Miracle, which is currently only available as an eBook. 

The Whispering House begins in the end of May in the school library. Fourteen year old Hannah is trying, but failing, to study for upcoming exams. Sam, her best friend and son of a petty thief who has been gainfully employed for the last eighteen months (a reference to The Theft and the Miracle, no doubt) is busy making and throwing paper airplanes. Nearby, Emily is desperately searching for a page of information about Napoleon that she printed off the internet, telling Sam and Hannah that he feared he was being poisoned at the end of his life and forensics tests done recently actually found traces of arsenic in a lock of his hair. This tidbit of seemingly irrelevant information weaves its way through the story, turning up again near the end of the book to reveal a fascinating bit of historical information. This  information proves to be the key to part of the mystery that unfolds when Hannah's family is forced to move into a rental home for a few months over the summer while their house is repaired. Cowleigh Lodge turns out to be a Vicotrian-era house that seems to be deteriorating from the inside out. A new coat of paint has been applied to the walls, but as the Price family settles in the history of the house begins to seep out. Hannah begins having strange, intense dreams about being under a canopy of glittering green leaves with a strange, blankly staring face next to hers. Then, she finds a dusty book of fairy tales wedged in between the wall and the stiff, thick overlays of several decades worth of wallpapering. The book is inscribed, "To Maisie From Your Loving Papa, Christmas 1876." The discovery of Maisie Holt's gravestone in the neighborhood graveyard and the knowledge that she died when she was only eleven years old spurs Hannah to want to make sense of this child's death, despite the fact that she knows children of all classes died young during the Victorian era. 

The clues begin to pile up as the house quickly deteriorates. Sam tries to help Hannah make sense of the things she is finding and the dreams she is having, but it is a climactic night, June 23rd, the date of Maisie's death as well as the day of the Midsummer Fair that reveals the truth behind the mystery. Wade  does a wonderful job sprinkling The Whispering House with ghostly happenings, from china breaking and magnetic fridge letters spelling out clues to the haunting dreams that Hannah has, but her true strength comes when she is weaving the past and the present into one. I especially like the chapters surrounding the Midsummer Fair, which is held at St John's Field, that is a huge event in town each year. Watching the costume parade and observing the line of little children dressed as Jack and the Giant, dragons and knights, vampires and vampire slayers, Hannah notes the "great struggle between good and evil. Victim and predator, innocent and knowing, captive and deliverer. Had it always been so simple? Was it still?" As Hannah finds out by the end of the book, it's not that simple and the roles of victim and predator, captive and deliver, are not always clearcut. Listening to her former teacher and the bishop talk about the significance of Midsummer's Night, the history of St John's Field, a healing well that was once there, and waking from dreams to see the world anew as in Shakespeare's play, Hannah drifts off, slipping into an eerie dream. As the night unfolds, Hannah and Sam find themselves alone in Cowleigh Lodge without electricity and a rainstorm pounding down. As Sam tries to find candles and matches and make dinner, Hannah is clearly not herself and possible possessed by Maisie. As he puts two bowls of soup in the microwave, she asks, "Why do you put the food in a cage? It cannot escape." Frustrated and worried by what she is saying, Sam pauses and realizes that, without electricity, "this house had reverted to its original state. The refrigerator was just a cupboard, the microwave a cage; the stove, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, and all the rest of the carefully designed appliances were no more than lumber. A waste of space." With the crumbling state of the house, Wade makes the connections between Maisie and Hannah palpable and urgent, which is crucial since, in the end, despite appearances and assumptions, the house had an unfortunate, although not malicious, role in Maisie's death. 

Having read At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, I was familiar with the vital plot point in the story. Even so, I didn't see it coming an applaud Wade for this ingenious twist. For those of you who have never read (or listened to, I always experience Bryson via audio book) Bill Bryson, he is a meticulous historian and sometimes scientist who is one of the first among the now popular wave of non-ficiton authors to write detailed, fascinating, highly readable books about seemingly boring things. At Home: A Short History of Private Life is a fantastic stroll through history and Bryson's 150 year old rectory house in England that covers the history of the various rooms and everything that goes on in them. 


6.23.2012

Homer, by Elisha Cooper


Homer, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper, is a book that gets right to the heart what it means to have a dog in your life. As Dan Ferrara said so succinctly in his review of Magic Thinks Big, which could almost be a companion to Homer,  "Cooper's watercolors, like his sentences, are simple and quiet and essentially perfect."

 "Homer sits on the porch. What does he want to do today?" is how Homer begins.  Homer has a lot of options. Chase around the yard with the other dogs (no thanks.) Explore the field? (Thank you, but no.) Walk to the beach and play in the sand? (No, you go.) As everyone leaves and the house empties for the day, Homer maintains his perch on the porch. Then, everyone returns, sharing the adventures and bounty of their day. As the sun sets and Homer makes his way back in the house, Dad asks, "Do you need anything?" Homer answers, "No, I have everything I want," and, four wordless pages later he finishes his sentence with, "I have you." In the final pages of the book, Cooper shares one of the most peaceful, wonderfully domestic illustrations I have ever seen in a picture book. A two page spread shows dad cleaning up the kitchen, mom putting the kids to be, the other dogs asleep on the rug and Homer climbing into his favorite, squishy blue armchair. Homer, both the dog and the book, just exudes peaceful contentment, the kind that is felt by and radiated from a beloved dog. 


But, as with all picture books worth owning, there are layers to the story and it can be read and received in more than one way. In her interview with Cooper at Kirkus Reviews, Julie Danielson points out the way that the story in Homer transcends pets, saying, "It makes me think of the happiness children can feel in a family that notices and loves them, and it even makes me think of the wisdom in not hyper-overscheduling one's children." Cooper, who used his family for models in the book as well as his childhood dog, Homer, responds, "On its face, this is a simple book. A dog sits on a porch. His family comes and goes. The end. But, yes, I hope something more is happening here. The children head out into the world - one girl explores a field by herself, one explores the beach by herself - before returning to the security of their family. They are bold, then safe - with unscheduled space, as you say, to pick flowers or collect shells. This freedom fills them up. Maybe it's the paradox of parenting. How, if we let children go, they come back stronger. . . If we create space for those we love, then love will come into that space." I loved the book  Homer before I knew the thoughts and emotions that went into it, but knowing what Cooper intended when he created it makes me love it even more. This book isn't just for dog lovers, even though the tag line, "Have you ever loved a dog?" is perfect. Homer is for anyone who is part of a pack.


More fantastic books from Elisha Cooper
(for those of you who love his work, his next book is about trains and a cross-country journey!)











6.22.2012

The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks, 344 pp, RL 4


Catherine Jinks' newest book, The Paradise Trap,  is a surprise for two big reasons - the continual presence of adults in the story and the fact that the villain at the heart of the story is a character from Greek mythology. The Paradise Trap also stands out among the recent crop of fantasy novels for being set squarely in the United States. Even the fantasy world that is created, the Paradise Trap of the title, is an echo (albeit a malevolent one) of life as we know it here. But, I am getting ahead of the story.

Holly Bradshaw is a single mom hoping to give her son Marcus a summer vacation that will get him out of the house and off those video games that he seems to be playing constantly saying, "I guarantee Diamond Beach will be more fun than any computer game. It will be our best holiday ever." She buys a creaky old trailer and books a space at Diamond Beach, the place where she spent many happy summer vacations as a child. A thorough cleaning of the trailer does nothing to remove the "sweaty gym clothes" smell that bothers Marcus, but his mother assures him they will spend most of their time outdoors enjoying the "rock pool and barbecues and lagoons and heaps of great kids and a fantastic playground." Diamond Beach proves to be about as exciting as their new trailer when the Bradshaws find things have changed - a lot - since Holly was a kid. The only spot they could afford is miles away from the beach and the campers are packed in like sardines. There are lines at the bathroom, lines at the playground and mobs of "yelling, squabbling children" running rampant. The two park the trailer and begin the long walk to the ocean almost right away. Things brighten a bit when Holly is spotted by her old Diamond Beach friend Coco, just as they are passing the fancy trailers belonging to the wealthiest campers who can afford a spot on the beachfront. It turns out Coco, a cat lover, has married Sterling Huckstepp of Huckstepp electronics and is living in luxury along with his children from a previous marriage, Newton and Edison, and a prototype robot butler named Prot. Sterling is happy to lead the life of a slightly mad inventor and happy to have Coco live the life of leisure. Holly and Coco start up like the never left off, immediately dishing about Jake Borazio, the cute fellow childhood camper who disappeared one summer. With Newt spending all her time on the phone, Marcus befriends the younger Edison and tells him that he thinks his trailer is haunted by the old lady who owned it. Immediately intrigued, Edison insists that Jake show him the trailer. Instead of the body of the old lady, the two find a dark, dank cellar under the trailer when they lift up one of the bench seats.

Stumbling into this underworld, the two find a corridor lined with doors and Edison impulsively yanks one open to find a "vivid, sunlit amusement park" that seems to be empty of visitors. Marcus is suspicious right away, but Edison is entranced and runs off. Marcus' skepticism and expression of anything less than happiness with his situation seems to set off an alarm for the "guardians" of this place, the stuffed animals that are prizes for winning the carnival games. Marcus is shoved out of the room and finds himself in the cellar, running for help. Not wanting to worry the parents just yet, Marcus grabs Newt's phone as a way to get her to help and loses her to another door. This one leads to the most amazing party ever, with all her friends and even some celebrities in attendance. Again, Marcus finds himself ejected when he is less than happy with the situation. Next Coco is lost to the Crystal Hibiscus Spa where she is attended to by giant, human-like cats. Finally, Sterling, Holly and Prot are called upon for help and the story really starts to take off.

Once Holly, Sterling, Prot and Marcus are all in the cellar they have to figure out how to rescue Coco, Newt and Edison, realizing that the doors in the corridor open only to the dream holiday of the person who opened it. Since none of them has dreamed of going to a spa, dance party or amusement park their chances of getting the right doors open are slim and, once in their dream holidays, it is unlikely that Coco, Newt and Edison will ever want to or be able to leave. However, Marcus has a healthy sense of apprehension and an acute sense the layout and action in a video game and is the most suited to figuring a way out of this dire situation. Also, Marcus seems to be the most willing to accept that there is magic at work, which proves to be vital. Once he figures out that Prot, a robot with no wishes, can open doors, the game changes - a bit. An elevator trip to a dusty old travel agent's office reveals brochures to all the dream vacations of everyone who has ever been lured into this Paradise Trap. While working on a strategy, Coco and Holly notice a brochure for Diamond Beach with a picture of Jake on it. Convinced he must be here too, they insist on rescuing him. How they do this and what they learn from Jake is both chilling and opportune. It seems that Jake has trapped Miss Molpe, the old lady who owned the trailer that Holly bought, the same old lady who spent summers at Diamond Beach and befriended the children who vacationed there, in a suit case. And Miss Molpe is actually a siren. While Jake has a basic grasp of what a siren is, it is Newt who provides most of the important information as a popular band she follows is called the Sirens, with each female band member adopting the name of one of the sirens from Greek mythology.

The final third of the book is taken up with the epic struggle that the adults, kids and robot wage against the siren in their efforts to escape her magical trap. Doors that open onto paradise turn into doors that lead to nightmares that include a sinking cruise ship (this is where Marcus' knowledge of video games, specifically Cruising for a Bruising, which is played out on a cruise ship, come into play) and an airport where there is no food to be found anywhere and everyone is hungry and cranky. The challenges and dangers seem never ending, but that's all right because Jink's imagination is also never ending and her writing brings the setting vividly to life. Readers who enjoyed The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu, both of which are series, will definitely gobble up The Paradise Trap.


The great cover art is by Scott Altman.

6.21.2012

How Many Jelly Beans? A Giant Book of Giant Numbers by Andrea Menotti with illustrations by Yancey Labat


How Many Jelly Beans? is the Sneaky Chef of picture books, but instead of hiding vegetables in kid friendly foods, Andrea Menotti and illustrator Yancey Labat (illustrator of the superb Worst Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Series of choose-your-own adventure books by David Borgenicht) have hidden math facts inside of a brilliantly colored, candy coated story about two siblings trying to out do each other. This husband and wife duo have created the candy version of a picture book with their oversized, brightly colored book that also has a giant fold-out poster at the end that has one million jelly beans on it. Amazing!

Menotti's story is a simple one. Siblings Emma and Aiden are offered jelly beans. "How many jelly beans would you like, Emma?" is the gun that goes off at the start of the race. Emma asks for ten jelly beans. Aiden asks for twenty. Murphy the dog takes a quiet interest in the battle as it escalates.

Very quickly the siblings are looking at 500 jelly beans, Emma insisting that Aiden cannot eat that many. When Aidan insists he can eat 1,000 jelly beans in a year Labat presents a wonderful spread with calendar pages for each month of the year, each day having two or three jelly beans in its box. Another fantastic illustration is Emma on her bed with 5,000 jelly beans covering her bedspread. One of the delightfully sneaky things that Menotti and Labat do in How Many Jelly Beans? that makes this book so enjoyable is to present the rising quantities of jelly beans in interesting settings.
They even manage to make 10,000 and then 100,000 jelly beans spread across a page interesting, especially when Aiden says, "If I had a hundred thousand jelly beans I'd choose . . . 5,000 blueberry, 10,000 watermellon, 2,000 cherry, 25,000 orange, 50,000 grape, 4,999 strawberry and 1 lemon." The final fold-out page of How Many Jelly Beans? finds the siblings thinking that 1,000,000 jelly beans are "probably too many." To that, Murphy responds, "Speak for yourself." One thing I'm sure of, there can never be enough books like How Many Jelly Beans? 




How Many Jelly Beans? is also reviewed at fuse #8 and 100 Scope Notes.

Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout



All my kids learned to read their first words from the backseat of a car, which is exactly why I am so excited and pleased with Marie van Lieshout's new book, Backseat A-B-See. van Lieshout does a wonderful job from A to Z, from the images to the layout to the signs she discovered to go with every letter of the alphabet and Chronicle Books has done a fantastic job with the production of Backseat A-B-See.


The author's note to  Backseat A-B-See is enlightening and informative and worth printing in full here:

Road signs have always fascinated me. These simple, bold icons tell us where to go, help us arrive on time, keep us safe and mostly out of trouble. 

We don't usually give thought to the story behind signs. Many evolved from wooden boards hand-painted early in the twentieth century; others were designed by a team of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) graphic artists that included Seymour Chwast, Roger Cook and Don Shanosky. These symbol signs received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence in 1984.

When I discovered my young son was equally smitten with road signs, I set out to create a book that celebrates them. Please DO ENTER!


A yellow car with a little head peering out of the backseat starts off the book with the words, "Vroom! Vroom! From the backseat, what do you see?" As the car (with the license plate ABC*FUN) travels down the road it encounters signs in alphabetical order, ending with the sign to the left and an increasingly shrinking line of ZZZZzzzzzzzz, the little tyke in the backseat sacked out. As with any truly brilliant book, it is deceptively simple but, upon reading and rereading reveals a depth and wealth of wonderful images, ideas and experiences.




6.20.2012

The Dunderheads Behind Bars by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by David Roberts, 48 pp, RL 2


I am so thrilled to see The Dunderheads Behind Bars, the sequel to the superlative The Dunderheads, both by Paul Fleischman with incredible artwork by David Roberts who also illustrated the wonderful picture book, Iggy Peck, Architect, by Andrea Beaty. Both books are just short enough (and filled with great full page illustrations) to be read out loud as picture books but long enough to give emerging readers a taste of success - and great literature - when read alone. Despite their name, the Dunderheads of the title are anything but blundering. What they are  is a diverse group of kids (with individual talents) who are disliked by some power wielding adults, particularly their teacher, Miss Breakbone, cousin to Roald Dahl's most despicable character ever (and that's saying a lot, that man was a misanthropist for sure) Miss Agatha Trunchbull. While Miss Breakbone doesn't have a chokey, she does have a brother, Chief of Police Breakbone who seems to dislike kids, or the Dunderheads anyway, just as much as she does.

From The Dunderheads


























School is out but Miss Breakbone finds a way to make life miserable for the Dunderheads even so. On July 12th, when our narrator Einstein sees an ad in the paper - Extras Sought for "Boy Story," the new movie from Ashley Throbb- Hart. The gang heads out to the auditions and, waiting in a huge line, Spider, the Champion Climber, scales the back of a large woman in a Marilyn Monroe dress (the white one from "Seven Year Itch") with a dove-of-peace tattoo on her upper arm. Although an ideal lookout, this large woman happens to be Miss Breakbone, hoping to snag a part and just as cranky as ever. 























The kids all get parts in the playground scene but Miss Breakbone has issues with the hurricane scene (a very funny illustration.) A few days later, news of a serial cat burglar breaks and Miss Breakbone and her brother show up at Spider's house to haul him in saying, "The kid's a climber, I don't need more proof." Heartbroken and worried for their friend, Einstein comes up with a plan, naturally.

Roberts really outdoes himself with The Dunderheads Behind Bars, the details seeming more plentiful, minute and articulate than before. Einstein's room is a messy geek's dream, and don't even get me started on Clips and the super-cool hanging chair he made himself, not to mention the hundreds of colorful paperclips he drew. Or his poor pet geckos. Of course, the Dunderheads prevail, Spider is freed and the real thief is nabbed, wrapping up yet another fantastic book from this dynamic duo, Fleischman and Roberts. I hope to hear more from the Dunderheads in the future!



The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by David Roberts, 56 pp, RL 2

The Dunderheads is now in paperback!
And Book 2, The Dunderheads Behind Bars is out now.



The Dunderheads is a is a school story that brings us a group of friends with nicknames that suit their individual talents -Pencil, Spider, Hollywood, Wheels, Clips, Junkyard, Google-Eyes, Nails, Einstein and Spitball - who go up against a teacher worthy of any Roald Dahl baddie, Miss Breakbone. This is the newest book from the versatile master of the miniature, Paul Fleischman, author of Seedfolks and the Newbery winning Joyful Noises: Poems for Two Voices as well as one of my all-time favorite picture books, Weslandia, illstrated by the superb Kevin Hawkes. From a bookseller's perspective, this book is hard to classify. Is The Dunderheads a long picture book, an oversized graphic novel or a really fantastic chapter book for emerging readers? Either way, however you read it, The Dunderheads is completely entertaining and perfectly packaged. British children's illustrator David Roberts c(illustrator of Andrea Beaty's superb rhyming picture book, Iggy Peck, Architect) combines characteristics of Edward Gorey's wonderfully weird pen and ink illustrations and Gustav Klimt's dream-like style of painting that often incorporated geometric designs with portriats to create his own style in this visually detailed book that personifies Fleischman's characters to a tee. And, no matter how suspenseful the story or how menacing Miss Breakbone, the colors and expressions of the kids remain bright and inviting. Robert's playful style is summed up by his quote on the jacket flap where he says, "Oh, what a joy Breakbone was to illustrate - a real villain. I would love to see more of her party frocks." 

The story itself is brisk, inviting Roberts to do as much storytelling, if not more, with his artwork as the author does with his words. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, upon reaching the last page I felt like I had just read a much longer book - the characters and pictures are so rich.

















The Dunderheads begins with the class being roundly abused by their new teacher, Miss Breakbone. As our narrator, the problem solving Einstein tells us, that was her first mistake. Her next mistake? "No eye for talent. An easy mistake to make in our case." Her third mistake is confiscating the ceramic cat that Junkyard found before school and was planning on giving his mom who is "a maniac for cat stuff." Her fourth mistake is telling Junkyard not to even think about getting it back. The class takes this threat as a dare. Einstein and company step in and show Miss Breakbone what a few dunderheads can do! What follows is a wacky scheme that utilizes the unique talents of each of the ten students as they plot to sneak into Breakbone's house during a party and steal back the ceramic cat with the sparkly green eyes.

This book is a great read out loud, but, more than that, it fills that gaping hole of books for readers transitioning from beginning-to-read books who are still overwhelmed by longer chapter books. Also, for those visual learners, the multi-paneled illustrations will keep them hooked from start to finish. After reading and re-reading The Dunderheads, all I can say is I hope that there are more stories from this wily gang of misfits in the future!

Don't miss the newest book from Fleischman and Roberts,
The Dunderheads Behind Bars!



Readers who enjoy this book should check out:
The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide, pictures by Edward Gorey
The Max Disaster Series by Marissa Moss
The Fog Mound Trilogy by Susan Schade and Jon Buller
The Stink Series by Megan McDonald