Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Trouble with Chickens

Cronin, Doreen. 2011. The Trouble with Chickens. New York: Harper Collins.

Doreen Cronin's latest creation is J.J. Tully, a retired search and rescue dog.  J.J. should be enjoying his retirement years in the country, but he isn't - all because of that crazy chicken.

J.J. tells most of the story, 
I could track the six-day-old scent of a lost hiker and pull a fat guy out from under a pile of rubble, but I couldn't get that crazy chicken out of my yard.  Her name was Millicent.  I called her Moosh, just because it was easier to say and seemed to annoy her.  She had two little puffy chicks with her.  She called them Little Boo and Peep. I called them Dirt and Sugar, ...
J.J.'s a tough customer and Moosh knows it.  That's why she's come to him for help.  Her peeps, Poppy and Sweetie, are missing and she's just received a mysterious note suggesting a rendezvous. J.J.'s accustomed to trouble, but this chicken trouble is a new wrinkle.  Moosh needs help, and not just the sniffing kind. It looks as if it may be an "inside" job. Vince the Funnel may be involved. Vince, a small, brown mutt with a funnel around his neck,
he looked like a cross between a dachshund and a lamp.
Sure, J.J. takes the case, but he's not making any guarantees.

Smartly written in a manner reminiscent of Bruce Hale's Chet Gecko Private Eye series, and paying homage to famed gumshoes, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, The Trouble with Chickens features some great lines,
She reminded me of a three-inch splinter I'd had once - it bothered me, and I was in a much better mood when it was gone.
a quirky set of characters (drawn to humorously quirky perfection by Kevin Cornell), and a surprisingly detailed plot.  Call it "chapter book noir", this may easily be the first in a sucessful series.

SLJ suggests this book for grades 2-4, however, very young readers may have difficulty with plot twists and unannounced changes in narration (Vince the Funnel is the voice of several chapters).  Best for ages 9-12.

(Advance Reader's Edition supplied by LibraryThing.  Final artwork may have changed.)
Look for Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type in one of the illustrations.

Preview the audiobook!

Monday, March 28, 2011


Munro, Roxie. 2011. Hatch! Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.

Whether your reader is currently interested in birds or not, he will be after the teaser on the very first page! 
Did You Know?
There are birds much taller than any human being, there are birds that can fit on a child's palm.  Birds can make nests that weigh as much as a car or are smaller than a walnut. ... birds ... can fly as high as a jet plane (eight miles up)...
Who wouldn't want to keep reading to find out? All answers are revealed within the pages of Hatch!

Excellent for participatory reading, the pages follow a particular format.  First, a detailed painting of eggs on a white background with the query,
Can you guess whose eggs these are?
Next, the following page offers several clues inside a colored "bubble" that mirrors the shape of the eggs on the facing page.
...A Major League Baseball team adopted its name and colors from this bird. ...  
Finally, in a detailed two-page spread, the bird is revealed in its native habitat.  Munro's pen and watercolor paintings are detailed and accurate in color and scale.  More facts are included in the same artfully placed "bubble," and adding to the fun is a text box inset at the bottom of the page, offering a chance to look and find other creatures,
also in this woodland habitat: coyote, red-tailed hawk, porcupine, turtle.

Hatch! is a big book - more than 11" square.  For that reason, a life-sized depiction of the world's largest egg (the ostrich's, at up to 7" long), would and does fit easily on a single page.  My only wish is that all of the egg paintings were to scale. While it's interesting to see the detailed coloration of each egg type (which admittedly would be difficult to show on the pea-sized hummingbird egg), it's somewhat confusing to see a 5 1/2" inch egg described on the facing page as "about the size of a pea." However, this reflects only my own opinion, which may not be shared by others and certainly does not detract from Hatch!, which I predict will not only be a crowd-pleaser, but may also hatch a few bird-watchers!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen

McCaughrean, Geraldine. 2011. The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen. New York: Harper.

Out of prarie desperation tumble the most amusing predicaments you've read in ages! It's like Mark Twain for kids.

Cissy Sissney lives in the prairie railroad stop of Olive Town, circa 1890. Since her beloved teacher, Miss Loucien left town with The Bright Lights, a traveling theater group, life hasn't been the same. 
Beyond the window, a great tidal wave of Boredom rolled in from the eastern horizon, then broke over the school roofs and Main Street and the silo and the umbrella factory before rolling on to the western horizon.  Cissy knew the color of boredom; it was the color of prairie.  It was the color of northwest Oklahoma.  It was the color of schoolday afternoons.  Sometimes she thought they sky had been nailed down on Olive Town like a crate lid and that she was suffocating on Boredom.
And things were about to get worse. School might be boring, but at least she had friends there, including her best friend, Habakkuk (Kookie) Warboys. Now her mother wanted her to give up school, work full time in the family shop.  Her father's
heart ached for his little girl whose life had suddenly shrunk in the wash from a costume gown into a shopgirl's apron.
But life has a way of changing the best laid plans. A runaway silo accident (!) destroys Cissy's family's store and severely injures her father. To make matters worse, there is a diphtheria outbreak in Olive Town. Soon Cissy, Kookie, and the beautiful Tibbie Bolden, find themselves in the care of their prim and proper new schoolteacher, Miss May March. All are bound for refuge in Salvation - the town of Salvation, that is, current and temporary home of Mrs. Lucien Shades Crew and the Bright Lights Theater Company - at least until they can get Curly out of jail.

The Bright Lights Theater Company, currently residing in a grounded paddle wheeler, takes a highly unanticipated journey downriver, meeting up with actors, entertainers, gamblers, rogues - a complete cast of "characters!" And subject to their many unexpected situations, they become in turn The Bright Lights Theater & Shipwrecking Company, The Bright Lights Theater & Funeral Company, and The Bright Lights Theater, Last Ditch & Final Curtain Company.  The Bright Lights "family" takes it all in stride.  As Henry, the Bright Lights' English butler reminds Cissy,
Yesterday I was a butler, Miss Cecelia.  Today I seem to be the Prime Minister of England, ... Sometimes life has a way of asking us to take a step up.
And step up they do!  To the direst, funniest, most improbable situations that might be found on a dilapidated paddle steamer plying the 1890 Numchuck River, calling on such colorful ports as Salvation, Patience, Plenty, Woodpile, Blowville, and Boats-a-Cummin.

The Glorious Adventure of the Sunshine Queen is not for the reluctant reader; the reader who struggles with contextual clues.  Rather, it is for the reader who glories in wordplay, colorful language, and magnificent adventures.  Ms. McCaughrean does not stop to ensure that the reader has "gotten," the joke (and there are many!), she keeps on moving, toward greater exploits downriver.  Get ready to be swept away from Salvation to Golden Bend on an exuberant trip with the Bright Lights!
Highly recommended.

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen is a sequel to the 2005 novel, Stop the Train. I've never read Stop the Train, having only recently become a huge fan of Ms. McCaughrean after reading The Death-Defying Pepper Roux (my favorite book of 2010). I slipped easily onto the fictional Numchuck River, however, without the benefit of the Train.

A few comments on the cover art - Elizabeth Bird of Fuse #8 had an intriguing post about books which appear to be hiding the fact that they are novels of historical fiction.  Certainly no one can make that claim in this case.  However, I wonder if the cover looks a little too much like historical fiction and fails to hint at the hilarity and mayhem contained within.  One need only to look at the UK version (with its alternate title of Pull Out all the Stops) to see what I mean.  Of course, it highlights the Sunshine Queen's fieriest adventure, but it lets the reader know that there are more than petticoats, overalls, and paddle wheelers in store; there are grand adventures to come! However, in the end, as long as the cover says "Geraldine McCaughrean," that's enough of a draw for me.

Advance Reader copy begged from the publisher.  Due on shelves May 17, 2011.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Unforgettable Season - book review

Bildner, Phil. 2011. The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of '41.  Ill. by S.D. Schindler. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

First, a little backstory -

My grandfather, though living in Connecticut when my mother and aunt were born, was born and raised in Massachusetts.  He never gave up his love for the Boston Red Sox; never adopted the team closer to his Connecticut home, the New York Yankees.  My aunt, the eldest and the apple of his eye, naturally became a Red Sox fan.  For my mother, well, what's a younger sister to do?  It was Yankees, of course.

Throughout the 1940s, these room-sharing sisters carried their love/hate of the Yankees/Red Sox to the extreme - even placing a tape line through the middle of the room, right through the bed they shared! - declaring one half to be Yankee territory and one side to be Red Sox country.  They listened to the games on the radio, went when they could, and idolized their favorite players - Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

And so it was that I grew up hearing stories of the famous rivalry between two of the greatest hitters to ever play the game of baseball.

Phil Bildner's, The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio and the Record-Setting Summer of '41, is, to paraphrase a favorite movie, like dipping myself in magic waters, transporting myself to the childhood of my mother and aunt - to the summer of 1941, when Joe DiMaggio hit "the streak," batting safely in fifty-six straight games, and Ted Williams finished the summer with a .406 batting average.  Neither record has ever been broken.

Bildner's prose carries readers back to 1941,
After the All-Star break, Joltin' Joe picked up where he left off.  his record-setting hitting streak rolled on. Radio broadcasts were interrupted for "DiMag Bulletins."  During long meetings at the Capitol, congressmen waited for the latest DiMaggio updates.  How long could he keep it going?
and when the streak ended at 56 games, all eyes turned to Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter,
On the season's final day, heading into a doubleheader against the Athletics, his batting average had dipped to .39955.  
     "Do you want to sit today?" Red Sox manager Joe Cronin asked Ted before that Sunday's first game.  "If you do, you got your .400 average." A .39955 average would be rounded up to .400 for the record books.
     "No," Ted replied.  "I'm going to play.  If I'm going to be a .400 hitter, I'm not going to slip in through the back door. I'm not going to do it sitting on the bench. I'm playing both games."
Ted finished the season at .406.

The game of baseball hasn't changed that much in the years that have passed since 1941.  Yes, the uniforms were  baggier and the socks were higher, but the game itself remains much the same. Schindler's pen and watercolor illustrations subtly highlight the changes in our culture - well-dressed fans in hats and suits, families gathered around the radio, newspaper boys in caps - yelling out the headlines - all commonplace in the Unforgettable Season.

The final pages exhort the reader to keep an eye out, for the next unforgettable season might be this one.  You never know.  Ah, baseball - you gotta' love it!

Center fielder, Joseph (Joe) Paul DiMaggio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

Left fielder, Theodore (Ted) Samuel Williams, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.

A footnote: My aunt has long since retired and moved to Florida - Ft. Myers, of course, spring training home of her beloved Sox.  My mother, upon moving to New Jersey in the 60's, joined her husband in cheering for the fledgling New York Mets, although she still has a soft spot for the Yankees.

Today's Nonfiction Monday host is The Children's War, a journal about books
 for children and teens set in WWII.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Women's History Month

Just a reminder that there are still many great posts to come at Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month . 
Along with Margo, of The Fourth Musketeer, I have been organizing the site to celebrate Women's History Month through the lens of children's literature.  The posts have been fascinating reading and many have offered rare insight into the motivation of nonfiction writers, and the women about whom they write.
Book giveaway information is available in several of the posts, including today's post.

Please stop by.  You won't be disappointed.

I'll be back on Monday with my usual Nonfiction Monday post.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told

Myers, Walter Dean. 2008. Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told. Ill. by Bonnie Christensen. New York: Amistad Collins.

This is an older title, but perfect for Women's History Month.

Well-known, award-winning author, Walter Dean Myers, turns his considerable skills to this biography of Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), writer, activist, suffragist, businesswoman. Ida B. Wells was born into slavery in Mississippi.  Following the Civil War and the death of her parents in a yellow fever outbreak, Ida became a teacher to support her many siblings.  Using her skills learned as a teacher, Ida became a writer.  From suffering ill-treatment at the hands railroad employee, Ida became an activist. The lynching of several friends created in Ida B. Wells, a full-fledged crusader - writing and  lecturing, at home and overseas, on the atrocity of lynching.  As an activist, she met with other like-minded leaders - Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. DuBois, to name a few. She was a talented writer and a successful business person - driven not by personal gain, but by an unwavering sense of fairness and humanity.
Ida Wells spoke up for what she believed.  Her weapons were her keen  mind and her pen. ... For more than a half century this dynamic, intelligent woman used her writing skills to promote freedom, safety, and justice.
It is amazing that the story of such an influential woman could have fallen out of our collective consciousness in such a short amount of time. Kudos to Walter Dean Myers for placing this story into the hands of young readers. Back matter includes a timeline and selected quotes from Ida Wells. At forty pages, with  pen and watercolor illustrations, this is an ideal book for grades 4 and up.

In 1990, Ida B. Wells was honored with a US Postal Service commemorative stamp.

During Women's History Month, please be sure to stop by the blog that I am hosting with fellow blogger, The Fourth Musketeer, KidLit Celebrates Women's History MonthAuthors and kidlit bloggers have pitched in to offer compelling posts related to women's history for each day in March.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Horton Halfpott - book review

I read an Advance Copy.
Actual cover will glow
in the dark.  How cool
is that?
 Angleberger, Tom. 2011. Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset. New York: Amulet.

Not resting on his (very comfortable) laurels from The Strange Case of Origami Yoda  and with Darth Paper nearly ready to strike back, Tom Angleberger has cranked out another winner!  On the day that M'Lady Luggertuck's corset is loosened, unusual things begin to occur at the usually starched and stately Smugwick Manor.  From the Luggertucks themselves, right down to the lowly kitchenboy, Horton Halfpott, something is stirring in the air at Smugwick Manor.  The "loosening" has begun.

In Horton Halfpott, or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset, Angleberger unleashes a large cast of colorful characters in a mystery that includes the servants (including Loaf Burton, Old Crotty, the stable boys, and the spoon-wielding Miss Neversly), pirates, a certain desirable young maiden by the name of Celia Sylvan-Smythe, a pompous detective, the loathsome Luggertucks, members of the press (well, someone must tell the story of the theft!), Horton (of course), and Montgomery, but, as the ever-helpful narrator points out,
Reader, I must warn you.  Montgomery is such a dull character that, if he did not play such an important part in the story, I would have left him out. His mother is dull, too.  In fact, you're welcome to forget her. There are enough characters for you to remember as it is.
However, you will remember Horton Halfpott. Against all odds, you will root for this charming, undernourished, kitchen lad and his never-ending pile of dirty dishes.  A hilarious romp through the social mores of 19th century England.

Tom Angleberger once worked as a kitchenboy.  Thankfully, he has found his true calling!  Horton Halfpott is pure gold.

On shelves in May.
Advance copy (minus glow-in-the-dark cover, [sigh]) supplied by publisher.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Good Sports: Baseball Heroes

Stout, Glenn. 2011. Good Sports: Baseball Heroes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

This book is not what I thought it would be!  When I saw it's small size and paperback format, I didn't give it much of a glance - instead, putting on the cart to be shelved.  Later, when searching for books on female athletes to display for Women's History Month, this book popped up in the catalog.  Huh?  I gave it a second look, and I'm glad I did.

Baseball Heroes contains the stories of four ball players who overcame enormous odds to rise to the top of the game they loved - Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in the major leagues, Hank Greenberg - who paved the way for Jewish ball players, Fernando Valenzuela - Mexico's first major league superstar, and Ila Borders.  Ila Borders?

No, I had never heard of Ila either, but her story is no less impressive than the rest. Born in 1975 to a baseball-loving family, Ila was as talented a baseball player as any of the boys her age.  Despite catcalls and complaints from parents and some coaches, she played Little League with the boys, pitching her way through elementary and junior high school.  When she enrolled in high school, however, the law said that she had to play on the school's girls' softball team.  But that didn't stop Ila.  With the support of her family, she enrolled in a private school where she earned a spot on the varsity team,
and when players from the opposition tried to show her up by blowing her kisses from the batter's box or acting disrespectful in other ways, Ila knew what to do. "I just brush them back," she later told a reporter, meaning she threw the ball close to them.  "It's my favorite pitch."
(I love this girl already!)  But high school was not the end of Ila's career.  She went on to pitch in college, and rebuffed by the major league teams, Ila Borders found a home playing professional baseball for an independent league, pitching for the Duluth-Superior Dukes, before retiring to finish college in 2000.
"You never know how far you're going to go," she said.  You just work your tail off and see what happens."
A truly inspirational chapter - perfect to share for Women's History Month.

Baseball Heroes is the first in a planned series, Good SportsGood Sports is a good idea. I wish Mr. Stout good luck and better copy editing with the rest of the series.  The cover contains two errors that will be corrected in future editions.  For the record, Glenn Stout's correct web address is  Baseball Heroes is a good book that deserved a better kickoff.
A parent and teacher guide for baseball heroes is available from the author.

Look for a great post later this month from Audrey Vernick, author of She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story on Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month!

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Picture Book of the Day,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable

Gutman, Dan. 2011. The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable. Read by Michael Goldstrom. Harper Audio.
6 hours, 8 minutes.

Mission Unstoppable is book one is a new series about twins, Coke and Pepsi McDonald, and their adventures as secret members of a highly-classified program known as The Genius Files.  Brilliant children from around the country have been chosen (based on their standardized test scores - a reason to do well!) to be part of a group charged with solving the problems of the world - or in this case, saving the world!  With trademark Dan Gutman humor and wisecracking, the story follows Coke and Pep on a cross-country summer trip with their parents, who are unaware of the Genius Files project and the dangers the kids face.  Someone is trying to kill them and they're in a race against time to reach the world's largest ball of twine and save the world!  Narration is third-person with frequent asides to the reader, "Go ahead.  Look it up.  I'll wait."

What's not to like? There are some stereotypes here - a mysterious woman with an Eastern European accent (why must they always sound Hungarian?), incompetent sanitation workers make a cameo appearance (but Mr. McDonald may be partly to blame for their error), the "bad guy" is the health teacher (it's always health or gym, isn't it?), Mom and Dad are relatively clueless (well, in fairness, perhaps we really are!), but these are minor issues in a book that will likely find a broad audience.

What's to like? Mission Unstoppable is very current employing the Internet, texting, GPS, etc. Mrs. McDonald is the primary bread-winner in the family, making a living with her funky website, "Amazing But True," which prompts the many stops at quirky Americana sites.  The story encourages map skills and geography in a fun way. The siblings may fight, but they genuinely like each other.The nonstop action, adventure, and high-tech gadgets and explosions will make this a popular choice for reluctant readers - especially boys. Reader Michael Goldstrom speaks clearly and in a very measured manner, again making this a good audio choice for reluctant readers.

The only thing I would have liked better would have been a less affluent family.  It is assumed that all families have a Rand McNally Atlas at home and the McDonald twins bemoan the prospect of a cross-country trip in an RV.  These are things that would not ring true to many (most?) of the children I see in the public library.

Still, a solid beginning for a new series. Dan Gutman is a perennial favorite, especially for summer reading assignments.  Get them hooked on this series, and perhaps they'll keep reading all year!

Reminder - check out all the great author and blogger posts for Women's History Month at Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month 2011.  Today's post is by Chasing Ray.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Women's History Month

Grab our badge!

March is Women's History Month!

Since last November, fellow blogger, Margo, of The Fourth Musketeer, and I have been working on a month-long celebration of women's history as viewed through the lens of children's literature.

I invite you to visit our commemorative blog, Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month 2011.  We've brought together, 31 talented children's authors and bloggers - one for each day in March, as well as a host of Internet resources on women's history.  I am providing today's post.  Please visit me there today as we kick off the celebration!

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...