Friday, March 23, 2018

Lulu and the duck in the park by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

[This review has been updated]

Long ago, I reviewed two of the Lulu books for Cybils, but never read the first book. In 2015 I was selecting titles for my new book club and was looking for books that would meet the kids' interests as well as feature more diverse characters and this popped into my head immediately.

In Lulu's first story, we learn that she is known all around town for her love of animals. But her animals get her into trouble because her teacher most definitely does not like animals. When Lulu tries to show her how amazing animals are, she almost loses her class their treasured guinea pig! Now her cousin and best friend AND the whole class is mad at her! But there's no time to think about that, because the class is going on their weekly walk through the park and there are ducks to see...but then tragedy strikes. Lulu manages to rescue an egg, but what will happen when it's not an egg anymore? Will her teacher really take their guinea pig away if she discovers it?

Lamont's sweet black and white illustrations show Lulu and her cousin Mellie and their class, noisy, exuberant, and interested in everything around them. There are plenty of cute, fuzzy animals pictured as well. The text is a step up from a very beginning chapter, but still comes in just over 100 pages and at a level a strong 2nd grader or average 3rd grader could easily read.

Lulu isn't quite as idealistic in this first book as she is in the later ones I read; she gets into trouble and has little spats with her cousin. Overall though, this is a feel-good book for any reader who will enjoy Lulu's love of animals and the funny trouble she gets into.

Verdict: This series has been quite popular and I'm sure my book club members who like animal stories will enjoy this, if they haven't already read it. Highly recommended.

Revisited: I still love to recommend these; they haven't been quite as popular with my book club readers as I'd hoped - they are a little too challenging for our lower level readers.

ISBN: 9780807548080; Published 2012 by Albert Whitman; Purchased for the library

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko

Claire and her older sister Sophie are having an adventure - of sorts. After all the recent fears and worries about Sophie's health, Claire has felt that she and her sister have pulled apart and their relationship is strained. When they visit their deceased great-aunt's house for their parents to pack up and dispose of all the antiques, the two sisters discover a mysterious unicorn statue and a fireplace. Encouraged by adventurous Sophie, the sisters climb up the chimney... and find themselves in a terrifying world with a monster chasing them. They manage to escape and Sophie decides the adventure never happened and tells Claire to forget all about it.

Claire has always followed Sophie's lead and tries to forget, but when Sophie disappears, Claire takes up all her courage and ventures to the magical world again, only to discover that Sophie has vanished there also - and has been visiting the other world for months, making friends and discoveries without her. It's a beautiful, magical world, but also a frightening one. Claire is plunged into a confusing adventure, always one step behind the missing Sophie, and struggling to find out how things work on her own.

She learns that in the land of Arden there are four magical guilds which control four elements; metal, stone, plants, and weaving. Long ago, the guilds worked together and honored the magical unicorns that populated the land. But when war arose, many tragedies occurred, the unicorns were killed, and the guilds were separated. Now they live apart, forbidden to work together. But strange magic is afoot and Sophie's disappearance is just the beginning...

During her journey, Claire discovers strengths she never knew she had even as she struggles to figure out who is friend and who is enemy. She witnesses the terrible cost of war and prejudice, and sees the aftermath in the lives of her new friends as well as how she and her sister are both affected as well. While the story employs many wish-fulfillment tropes, like discovering magic and royal blood, it offers them in a fresh setting with strong, multi-faceted female characters that keep the story interesting and exciting.

Verdict: A strong debut fantasy for middle grade readers, hand this one to fans of E. D. Baker, Merrie Haskell, and Diane Zahler.

ISBN: 9781681192451; Published February 2018 by Bloomsbury; ARC provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Hair by Leslie Patricelli

Patricelli adds another delightful title to her board book series of silly baby experiences. Patricelli's rosy-cheeked, white baby has a hair. Just one hair on their head! They take good care of their curly hair, decorating it, washing it, and brushing it. And it grows! Soon it's time for Baby's first haircut. It's a little scary, but it ends well - and there's a final spread of all different kinds of hair, from poodles to bald heads, mohawks to unibrows.

Patricelli's bold colors and lines show the cheerful baby and all its hair adventures, set against boldly colored backgrounds. The book is a sturdy square, with rounded corners. Patricelli's thick brushtrokes show marks below the layer of color, so don't think the book is dirty, it just looks like that.

This is a popular series in my library, featuring the same round-faced baby who happily explores all the excitement and little adventures of learning about the world, from going potty to the first time to first haircuts.

Verdict: If you haven't already been purchasing this series, now is a good time to start and don't miss this latest addition!

ISBN: 9780763679316; Published 2017 by Candlewick; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bamboo for me, Bamboo for you! By Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Purificacion Hernandez

Manushkin is a prolific author and this latest picture book is a nice addition to her repertoire, along with the delightful illustrations by a new-to-me artist.

Amanda and Miranda are panda sisters and they both, along with their mother, love bamboo! In cheerful rhyme the pandas eat their bamboo, take a look at what their fellow zoo-members eat, and have the normal sibling squabbles and disagreements. Fortunately, at the end of the day, the two make up any arguments and are two best friends - and sisters - again. And there’s plenty of bamboo to eat!

Hernandez’s illustrations are colorful and eye-catching, with fuzzy black and white markings for the pandas, bright purple leaves on blue trees, vibrant green bamboo, colorful birds, and lots of swathes of yellow, blue, green, and and purple backgrounds.

I’m constantly searching for new books that are suitable for toddlers but with recent trends in picture books leaning towards older listeners, this can be challenging. This book meets the bill; it has bouncy rhythms, the text isn’t too long, cute animals and vibrant illustrations, and a simple storyline that toddlers can follow.

Verdict: This might not be an award-winning title, but it’s what I need on my shelves and for my storytime providers and I’d guess that other librarians are also searching for these titles. A great addition to toddler storytime.

ISBN: 9781481450638; Published 2017 by Aladdin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Monday, March 19, 2018

Robins! How they grow by Eileen Christelow

I've never really thought of Christelow as a nonfiction author, but her picture book expertise translates well to this narrative nonfiction title.

The first spread introduces a pair of teenage robins who are here to tell us their story. The story is told through panels of art, dialogue between the two immature robins (complete with speech bubbles), and paragraphs of text. It begins with the male robin's migration north, glosses lightly over mating, and jumps into nest-building and eggs. The robins' choice of a nesting spot on top of a hoe is taken from Christelow's own experience (explained later in the back matter). The robins guard and protect their eggs, although one is lost to a hungry squirrel, and later care for their hatchlings. The baby birds grow from hideous, featherless creatures (I am not one of those who likes baby birds. Ugh.) to fledglings ready to fly. Along the way, one of the three falls prey to a hungry hawk. The two remaining birds, teh ones telling the story, continue to explain their growth and development, learning to live with the flock, and beginning to care for themselves as their parents prepare to raise another family. The story ends as the robins migrate south with their flock for the first time.

Christelow writes an author's note about her experience with robins and encourages readers to observe their own backyards for wildlife and seasonal changes. The book also includes a glossary, more facts about robins, and a short list of sources.

It can sometimes be hard to find solid titles on "ordinary" animals. For my audience in Wisconsin, robins are a common bird that many kids are likely to see about in the spring and summer. This book is an excellent resource for encouraging kids to explore their local wildlife, learn simple facts about bird life cycles, and hone their observation skills. Although the text can be lengthy in parts, the illustration panels tell their own story that younger children can easily follow while older readers and classes will find much to explore.

Verdict: An excellent resource, not to be missed. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780544442894; Published 2017 by Clarion; Purchased for the library

Sunday, March 18, 2018

RA RA READ: Interactive Picture Books

Interactive picture books are extremely popular in my library; at storytime, with the parents, with preschool teachers, and of course with the kids themselves! I've been tagging them in my LibraryThing for a while and now I'd like to share some with you. These are the ones I use most often in storytime and to the greatest effect.

There are many, many more interactive books - and many books you can make interactive just by how you use them in storytime! Please share your favorites in the comments.

  • Silvia Borando
    • This is the main author for Minibombo books, a small, Italian imprint. They have quirky and unique books that are delightful storytime reads. Some of our favorites are Shapes, Reshape! and Open up, please! The newest title, Shake the tree has also been a hit.
  • Nicola Davies
    • What happens next, Who's like me, what will I be
    • These lift the flap books are my top go-to nonfiction titles, especially Who's Like Me which teaches the difference between mammals, amphibians, reptiles, etc. There are enough flaps for a large class to take turns lifting and looking but be prepared to spend a loooooong time discussing these. I usually set aside at least 10 minutes and you can easily spend an entire storytime just one one of these books.
  • Ed Emberley
    • Go away big green monster; If you're a monster and you know it
    • I actually have a puppet that goes with Big Green Monster. I have used it to great effect with special education students - teen age, preschool developmental level. I get them all to make "go away" motions and say with me "go away" as I read the book. The second title is a fun singing book - get everyone standing and clapping their claws!
  • Edward Gibbs
    • I spy series
    • These are very simple - there is a question with a clue and a hole in the page gives you a hint as to the animal. These work best with toddlers and younger preschoolers as they're too easy for the older kids. They are mostly out of print, but sometimes available as board books.
  • Christie Matheson
    • Starting with Tap the magic tree, a marvelous fall-themed take on Press Here, Matheson wrote several titles with nature themes.
  • Nicola O'Byrne
    • Sometimes written with a co-author, O'Byrne has created a series of interactive books that are both funny and clever. Open very carefully, a book with bite started the series and the latest is What's next door?
Individual titles
  • Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett
    • This works best with older children (4-5). Have them join you in the actions suggested on each page.
  • Don't push the button by Bill Cotter
    • At first this appears to be a spin-off of Tullet's Press Here but it's actually more akin to The Monster at the end of this book. Be prepared to calm down riotous laughter. Only offers opportunities for a small number of children to participate. It works best if you have two helpers.
  • Jump by Scott Fischer
    • All ages love this book. I get all the kids to crouch down, and once they've got the idea of the book - that there's going to be a JUMP every time I turn the page, they will enthusiastically follow along.
  • Who has this tail? Who has these feet by Laura Hulbert
    • This works nicely with a range of children - simple pictures of different parts of animals. You can expand it for older kids to talk about how the different parts are used (a la Steve Jenkins)
  • It's a tiger! by David LaRochelle
    • This is one of our absolute favorites! Have all the kids stand up and as you read the book, whenever you get to "it's a tiger! run!" have them scream and run in place. They will catch on quickly!
  • Warning: Do not open this book by Adam Lehrhaupt
    • This works best with older kids who can understand the tongue-in-cheek humor, but kids pretty universally like the idea of breaking the rules. There is a sequel, Please open this book.
  • Do you know which ones will grow by Susan Shea
    • This one works best with older kids who understand the point of the story - that you're contrasting living and manufactured things. I use it with a game "Garden vs. Not Garden" and I generally open the flaps myself as I read it.
  • Can you make a scary face by Jan Thomas
    • All ages love this. Stand up! Sit down! Do the chicken dance!
  • Press Here; Mix it up by Herve Tullet
    • These are the books that really touched off the interactive picture book fad. One of the things I like is that they offer opportunities for a class of 20-25 kids to participate, although you have to do a little math to make sure everyone gets a turn. Do leave extra time for participation.
I use these and many other titles in my Get up and move! outreach storytime and my Winter Wigglers: Interactive Storytime

Saturday, March 17, 2018

This week at the library; or Things Happen

What's Happening
This was an exhausting and frustrating week. I did not get much done because of all the incidents and other things going on. Next week will be even busier. Then I can have a break. I need it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Princess Pulverizer: Grilled cheese and dragons by Nancy Krulik, illustrated by Ben Balistrieri

Princess Serena is bored in princess school - and she hates her name! Call her Princess Pulverizer, because she's going to be a knight! Her father objects, but Pulverizer knows just how to get her way... at least she thinks she does!

This story starts out as a typical anti-princess tale, with wild Pulverizer wreaking havoc and demanding to be a knight. Things start to shift a little when her father, the king, points out that being a knight isn't all fun and games either. If Princess Pulverizer wants to be a knight, she's going to have to learn just as much as she would if she was going to be a proper lady. She'll also have to learn to be a nicer person, less selfish, demanding, and greedy. In fact, before she can even start learning to be a knight she must do eight Good Deeds!

Doing good deeds isn't as easy as it seems, and Pulverizer is soon in trouble. But with the help of an always-scared knight-in-training, his pet dragon (he's really gassy but he makes great grilled cheese) and Pulverizer's own determination, she just might manage to get started on her good deeds.

Balistrieri's cheerful cartoons show a red-headed wild child with plenty of pep and vim, but also a fair helping of ego. Pulverizer smashes her way through life, landing in puddings, getting trapped by stinky giants, and attacking dragons with little thought for the mayhem that surrounds her. Asides from a couple villagers in the background, all the characters are white. There's lots of gruesome and icky detail, with warty giants, disgusting slop, and plenty of farting and belching jokes.

Verdict: This is a little different from the average "tomboy princess wants to be a knight" beginning chapter. It's clear that Pulverizer doesn't think about anyone but herself, even if she's starting to learn that she might need friends by the end of the book. It's funny, but much more gross than Princess in Black. Hand this one to fans of Dragonslayers Academy or Time Warp Trio.

ISBN: 9780515158328; Published 2018 by Penguin Workshop; Review copy provided by publisher

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Framed by James Ponti

I was a little skeptical of this mystery, despite Ms. Yingling's recommendation. The cover just didn't really grab me and I wasn't sure we needed another art heist book. But it turns out, we do need this one! It's not only a great middle grade read, it's just a great read in general and I enjoyed it myself.

The book starts abruptly with middle schooler Florian's abduction of Romanian gangsters. Fade to black and the real story begins... Florian has moved (again). His parents, both involved in art and security, move frequently. Florian has developed T.O.A.S.T. to pass the time and amuse himself more than anything else. The Theory Of All Small Things has helped Florian figure out an art heist in the past and, to his surprise, garners him a new friend in the form of soccer-playing, African-American Margaret. The two are surprised (and somewhat thrilled) to get swept up in an art heist, as well as the search for Margaret's unknown birth parents.

Along the way we find out why Florian has been kidnapped, solve several individual mysteries, go along on some exciting adventures, especially when Florian gets picked to be a consultant to the FBI, and even see Florian starting to enjoy typical school-kid life, for the first time.

The mystery is really well done, with lots of clues and twists, but not so many that you spend half the book trying to break codes (not a pastime I personally enjoy). There are unresolved issues left (what will Florian tell Margaret about her parents?) that leave room for a sequel. Florian isn't stuck-up or obnoxious; he makes mistakes, uses his theory incorrectly, does stupid stuff and gets in trouble, but also respects Margaret's intelligence and skills and treats her as a full partner.

Verdict: This is a great mystery series I can't wait to introduce to my middle grade readers. It's definitely going on the list for our mystery month for book club!

ISBN: 9781481436304; Published 2016 by Aladdin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Hickory, Dickory, Dock and other favorite nursery rhymes illustrated by Genine Delahaye

This British collection of nursery rhymes has cute illustrations, but doesn't quite make the grade.

The nursery rhymes included are a mixed bag, from "Old MacDonald had a farm", "Five little monkeys", and "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" to rhymes that aren't well-known in the states or have fallen out of use, like "Three blind mice", "Goosey Goosey Gander", and "See-Saw, Margery Daw".

There are slight change to some, but not all, of the rhymes. Only the first verse of "Mary had a little lamb" is included, and in "Goosey Goosey Gander" the narrator leads the old man down the stairs, instead of throwing him. But the blind mice still get their tails cut off, the baby falls from its cradle, and the old man in "It's raining, it's pouring" bumps his head.

Delahaye is a print and clothing designer, and it certainly shows in the gentle pastels used throughout the book. Smiling animals, some anthropomorphic, some not, adorn the pages in soft blues, greens, browns, and grays. The farmer's wife, a grey kitten, appears to have dropped a plastic knife and given up on the idea of cutting off the blind mice's tails, and most of the rhymes show the animals playing together, rather than actually illustrated the actions described.

The book is a tall rectangle, about 9x6 inches. Like most of Tiger Tales' board books it's heavy on the cute illustrations, but light on the sturdy binding. The pages have a good, thick, cardboard feel but the binding doesn't feel like it will stand up to multiple uses.

Verdict: If you are looking to add more nursery rhyme board books this is an acceptable purchase, but it doesn't particularly stand out from the crowd.

ISBN: 9781680105254; Published 9-1-17 by Tiger Tales; Borrowed from another library in my consortium