Friday, July 30, 2010

Ol' Bloo's Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble

Witty redo of Grimm Brothers classic
By Jan Huling
Illustrated by Henri Sorensen
$16.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages

With so many versions of the Bremen Town Musicians to choose from, why read another?

Because this one's too "uhmewzin" not to.

Set in cotton country just where the states of Louisiana and Texas rub shoulders, Huling's remake is a perfect pairing of easy-does-it old critters and Southern attitude.

The animals, all in the twilight of their lives, speak with lazy vowels, nice and slow, and greet each other with good old Southern hospitality.

As the story begins, a donkey named Ol' Bloo has just sat down after a day of hauling cotton, when he overhears Farmer Brown say he's too decrepit to be of use and must be put down.

Ol' Bloo doesn't take kindly to the farmer's sentence and high-tails it out of there before the farmer is even off his porch rocker.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Noonie's Masterpiece

By Lisa Railsback
Art by Sarajo Frieden
$18.99, ages 9-12, 208 pages.

Noonie may only be in fourth grade but she already knows she's a brilliant artist, even if no one else seems to notice. So why aren't her powers as an artist enough to get her dad to come back home?

Ever since her mom died four years ago, Noonie's been living with her quirky relatives and her sad dad's been half-way around the world on archeological digs, when what Noonie really needed was for him to come back for her pronto.

In this whimsical, lovely book, Noonie writes her life story as only a fourth grade artist can, explaining each of the artistic periods that followed her mother's death, and how her art got her through that loss and her dad's absence.

Noonie endears from the first page with her defiance toward all the misfortune life has thrown at her, and along the way, empowers us to grab hold of life and express whoever we are, even if no one else gets what we have to say.

With doodles bending and dancing around the text, Noonie sets out to set the record straight about her early artistic influences, speaking to any author who might someday write about her, so that one day when she's plucked from obscurity to join the ranks of great artists like Frida and Van Gogh she isn't misunderstood.

She begins with the horrible event that launched her Blue Period, the death of her mother while she was in kindergarten, then explains how she rose out of her gloom to paint a masterpiece, then nearly destroyed it, before realizing that no matter what happens, an artist must try to be brave.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World)

By Mac Barnett,
Illustrated by Dan Santat
$16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

The cover of this amusing picture book grabs you like a cult B movie and gets you feeling suspense before you even know why.

There you see a girl in black pigtails gaping at a gigantic robot and frog (which you see reflected in her glasses) as helicopters close in from behind.

Across the front of her jumper the title of the book yells, "Oh No!" in bold capital letters outlined in red.

Did the girl utter those words or was she too tongue-tied to get them out?

Barnett and Santat take a dramatic story idea, treat it like a sci-fi action flick, and in the process, make us feel as though we're watching it play out on a film screen.

In the story, a girl builds a 360-foot robot for her Fifth Grade science fair project, only to see the experiment go terribly wrong as the robot starts to plow down her city, much like the archetypal King Kong.

Santat zooms in on top of the action and scenes sprawl over the fold. Each illustration is letterboxed to appear as if it was formatted for the book from a wide-screen movie, with black bars appearing above and below the pictures.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Secret Lives of Princesses

By Philippe Lechermeier
Illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer
Sterling, 2010
$19.95, ages 4-8, 88 pages

You've always been told not to judge books by their cover, but just this once, feel free to jump to assumptions.

For, what you see on the dust jacket of this book is as lovely as what's to come -- paintings so stunning, you'll wish you could frame them, only you won't because the book's too nice to pull apart.

The cover of this delightful spoof on princesses features an exquisitely painted princess with a heart-shaped cage for a crown and almond-shaped eyes looking askance -- remarkably, without upsetting the poise of her head.

Known as Princess Hot-Head, this self-assured gal only looks tame, for she's fond of spitting and dueling, and adores steak tartare. She's just one of more than 30 unusual ladies profiled in this amusing coffee table-size book by an imaginative French author named Lechermeier.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pop-Up Tour de France: The World's Greatest Bike Race

By Pamela Pease
$36, ages 9 and up, 20 pages

If your child refers to his bike helmet as his "lid" or dreams of "bagging a peak" in a road race, he'll be fascinated with this stunning pop-up about the Tour de France.

Worthy of propping up on a shelf, this coffee table-sized book covers all the basics of the race, from terrain to etiquette, using images that rise from the fold, pull out from the page and spin to reveal facts.

There's even a simple map of France overlaid with erasable acetate so your child can plot the route of the greatest cycling race on Earth, then wipe it clean in time for next year's tour.

Other highlights include a time trial demo, in which a racer leaning over his bicycle pedals as fast as he can over the course of 1 or 2 minutes.

As your child pulls the tab out of the right side of the page, a paper cutout of a cyclist races ahead a few inches, triggering his back wheel to spin and the seconds counter ahead of him to advance.

One of the most visual elements is a two-page fold-out of Paris with mini pop-ups of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph, as packs of cyclists sweep past the Seine River toward the finish line.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Humblebee Hunter

By Deborah Hopkinson, pictures by Jen Corace
$16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages

Any child who's ever hunkered down to watch a worm crawl or mixed water with mud and grass to see what she'd get will think Henrietta Darwin's childhood was idyllic after reading this fictionalized account.

Growing up the daughter of one of the most inquisitive naturalists ever to live, the father of natural selection Charles Darwin, "Etty," as her family called her, loved to be with her father as he examined the natural world.

Etty and her siblings often gathered around his feet to hear stories about the mischief he'd get into as a child -- like when he tried to catch three beetles and made the mistake of putting one in his mouth since his hands were full.

But more than anything, Etty adored his stories of observation and imagined traveling with him to the Galapagos Islands, feeling the bony shell of a giant tortoise or giggling at the courtship of the blue-footed booby, in which the male seabird puffs himself up and stamps his turquoise feet like a silly clown.


Written and illustrated by Ned Young
$16.99, ages 3-7, 32 pages.

Of all three boy dogs, Zoomer's the one who doesn't waste a minute of his day. He's always leaping off something or turning mundane objects into fanciful things.

But now he's being obstinate about doing something he likes to do and Dad can't figure out why.

With Mom away, Dad has to round up the boys and get them ready for school. The problem is, Zoomer says he's not going to school and now he's running through the house getting into mischief.

Every time his brothers, Cooper and Hooper, head off to get their bubble bath and put on clean collars as they were told, Zoomer finds something else to do and distracts them too, making it almost impossible for Dad to get them ready.

Dogs Don't Do Ballet

Written by Anna Kemp
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
$15.99, ages 4-8

Biff's legs are nothing like a gazelle's and he's rather thick around the belly, but he's got all of the passion of a prima ballerina.

The only problem is convincing grownups that even a short-legged pit bull like him can dance.

Unlike other dogs who are content to fetch sticks and wee on fire hydrants, Biff longs to dance on tiptoe with his girl, a young ballet dancer.

One day while tying on dance slippers, the girl notices him gazing at her tutu and asks her dad if Biff can come with her to dance class.

Looking over his newspaper, Dad shoots down her request and insists that dogs don't belong in ballet. Biff, however, can't resist the call and sneaks off to follow the girl.

But when Biff tries to join the class and even demonstrates a good first position, the teacher shoos him away and tells him that dogs don't do ballet.