Saturday, April 30, 2011

Scritch-Scratch a Perfect Match

By Kimberly Marcus
Illustrated by Mike Lester
$16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages

A flea chomps into the backside of big scruffy stray and causes him to lurch into the air and into the heart of an old man in this rollicking good read-aloud.

One day on a country path, a plump flea with chiseled teeth "FLIT-FLIT" flaps into a dog's shaggy fur, takes a bite of him and sets off a hilarious chain of events.

"AAROOF!" howled the stray as he jumped in the air," Marcus writes, as the dog's eyes bulge out and every part of him stiffens -- paws flex, his tail sticks up like a feather duster and his fur spikes out in all directions.

Turning the page, readers see the dog landing back first, paws up onto an old man strolling down the path. The man is launched into the air and belly flops across the fold with his nose leading the way.

"AWOOMPH was the sound as he dropped like a sack, / landing THUD! 'OH CRUD!' on an old man's back."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

For Backyard Explorers

How Things Work in the Yard
As bugs begin to flit about and crawl up fingers this spring, children will be racing inside with questions about all that they see.

To help nurture their enthusiasm for nature and activities they love to do in the yard, here are two learning books that will keep them wide-eyed to the last page:

Bugs by the Numbers, an insect book that wows with graphics and facts, and How Things Work in the Yard, an exploration of creatures and playthings in a child's backyard.

For more about these sweet titles from Blue Apple Books, read my reviews below!

Bugs by the Numbers

Facts and Figures for Multiple Types of Bugbeasties
By Sharon Werner & Sarah Forss
$19.99, ages 4-8, 56 pages

Little entomologists will delight in every page of this clever tribute to tiny creatures that crawl and fly, pester and amaze.
The gals behind the enchanting Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types promise a myriad of marvels in this number bug book and deliver -- with lots of giggles.

As with that award-winner, Werner and Forss build creatures from numbers of varying size and fonts, and explore facts though fun graphics and flip-out pages.

"Each bug on these pages / Looks unique and rare, / Not like the insects / You see everywhere," reads a poem in the front fold. "They're made up of numbers: / The ones that you count. / 'Cause when you think bugs, / You think BIG amounts."

How Things Work in the Yard

Words and Art by Lisa Campbell Ernst
$14.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

Eyes will dart around the pages of this charming book as if they were taking in a yard awakening with activity.

With adorable paper cut-outs and facts that say just enough, award-winning Ernst answers 20 questions about what children see as they play in their yard.

Each question is posed as child would ask it: How does it work? -- whether the thing is mechanical or not -- and this gives the story a sweet feeling from the start.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator!

Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
$17.99, ages 4-8, 72 pages.

Amanda's stuffed Alligator is a handful, but she wouldn't want him to be any other way.

She just needs a way to keep this zippy little fellow as busy as he wants to be.

In this sweet picture/chapter book hybrid, Caldecott winner Willems introduces a toy that can't sit still and the girl who just wants to make him happy.

I'm a Shark

Written and illustrated by Bob Shea
$16.99, ages 3-6, 40 pages

Shark doesn't have a nervous bone (er, piece of cartilage) in his body, but could there be one teeny tiny thing that rattles him?

Get ready for giggles. Shea is back with another fun read-aloud, this time about a big-talking shark who tries to convince a little fish and crab that nothing can scare him.

Without wasting a page, Shark swims up to readers on the first spread, catches their eyes like a happy emoticon and  declares: 1) He's a shark and 2) He's totally awesome.

After all, he is big and broad. And just look at that pointy-tooth grin.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Books to Turn You Green

from Patrick McDonnell's Hug Time
Get out there and give the world a hug. It's Earth Day and it's a great year to be green!

To help empower your children to make a greener world, I've gathered a list of stellar books about caring for Earth.

The first two celebrate children's curiosity about the natural world:  Me…Jane and Gus is a Tree

The third explores the science of weather and climate change: How the Weather Works.

The fourth calls on children to take a stand to heal the planet: Gaia Warriors.

The next shows ordinary folks becoming energy-saving heroes: Energy Island.

And the last spotlights how great it feels to reach out and care: Hug Time by the author who brought us Me…Jane.

I've also listed 10 fun ways to help your children be green. Who knows, they might just sprout grass for hair!


Written & illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
$15.99, ages 3-6, 40 pages

How does a child grow to love the natural world? If you're Jane Goodall, it begins by hiding out in hen houses and laying your cheek against a tree.

In this tender tribute to the legendary anthropologist, Mutts creator McDonnell shows a girl born with wonder in her eyes and a passion for creatures big and small.

In those early years, Jane flitted about her yard with her stuffed monkey Jubilee, watching nature unfold and climbing trees. She'd see birds knit together nests and squirrels scamper in spirals around trees.

Jane read everything she could about the things she saw and the exotic place she imagined visiting, a far-off place known as Africa where real-life chimpanzees perched in branches just like she loved to do with Jubilee.

She was entranced by Tarzan of the Apes (imagining herself Tarzan's Jane), dreamed of being Dr. Doolittle and filled every inch of her scrapbooks with observations, sketches and quizzes for a nature club she formed with her sisters, The Alligator Society.

Gus is a Tree

Written by Claire Babin
Illustrated by Oliver Tallec
$14.99 each, ages 3-8, 32 pages

As a boy rests against a tree, he dreams that his feet have rooted into the ground and he's sprouted branches in this exhilarating French import.

In this second book in the Gus nature series, Gus steals away to sit quietly under a tree while other children in his schoolyard peel around and play.

He loves the grooves of the tree's bark, the way the leaves shimmer above him and the earthy fragrance of the wood.

With his back against the tree, he closes his eyes, reaches up with his hands to stroke the bark and remembers a walk through the forest with his father.

As memories of twigs crackling underfoot return, slumber takes him and Gus dreams.

In his imagination, he's a big old tree with thick branches for arms and bark striped like the sleeves of his shirt.

How the Weather Works

A Hands-On Guide to
Our Changing Climate
Written by Christiane Dorion
Illustrated by Beverley Young
Templar, 2011
$17.99, ages 7-11, 20 pages

Everyone's talking about climate change, but ask them to tell you what it is and chances are they'll get tongue-tied.

The subject is so complex and hotly debated that it's hard for children, let alone many adults, to digest what it means.

And unless you know what climate change is all about, how do you start to care about it?

In this wonderful movable guide to weather, the team behind last year's acclaimed How the World Works demystifies climate change by sorting through terms kids need to know to understand it, like what is the water cycle and ozone.

Almost the entire book is about weather, and it's only after readers work through the fundamentals, from how the sun causes weather to where rain comes from and why the wind blows, do the book's creators address climate change.

Gaia Warriors

By Nicola Davies
Afterword by James Lovelock
$14.99, ages 11-14, 192 pages

Earth's climate is changing fast, but don't be gloomy about it because the fight is on to slow it down and all you have to do is join in, says author Davies in her guide.

Inspired by scientist James Lovelock's theory that Earth is a living system, the guide is a no-nonsense look at how and why the climate is changing, and what readers can do to keep it from getting warmer.

Is the problem big? Davies asks. "Yes. Scary? Maybe. But let's do it anyway." Why? Because we have to, she says.

Davies calls on kids to be warriors for change, and begins and ends the book with quotes that drive home the idea that only people can make the changes happen and if they're to succeed, they can't get bogged down by doubts.

Energy Island

How One Community Harnessed the Wind and Changed their World
Written and illustrated by Allan Drummond
$16.99, ages 6-10, 40 pages

A Danish island where hats are always flying off heads learns to harness the energy of the wind and takes itself off the grid.

In this remarkable true story, Drummond tells about the people of Samso who used the very thing they couldn't escape from -- buffeting winds -- to work for them.

In 1997, Denmark's government designated the island as its "renewable energy island" -- a region that could eventually run completely on free, nonpolluting energy thanks in a large part to its windy location.

Since then, the island off the Jutland peninsula has become almost entirely energy independent through the use of wind turbines, as well as district heating plants, biomass and solar panels.

It's even able to export surplus electricity from those turbines to the mainland and it has eliminated its carbon emissions by 140 percent.

That means if you were to look for a carbon footprint there, you wouldn't find one.

But becoming a green island wasn't quick and it wasn't easy.

Hug Time

Written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
$14.99, ages 4-8, 48 pages.

Jules, the big-hearted kitten from McDonnell's comic strip Mutts, walks the world over trying to make hurts go away in this classic gem.

With the help of his girl Doozy, the little tabby puts on his green sweater and sets out into the world with a Hug To-Do List and front legs ready to cuddle.

First thing out the door, Jules wraps himself around each of his buddies, Mooch the feline, Noodles the alley cat and Earl the dog.

Then before he's gone far, he leaps up to give a butterfly a squeeze, and embraces a bed of buttercups and a gray squirrel.

Then it's off to the park to hug every bird he can find and next: the wide open sea. He's determined to find a big blue whale and soon spots a Y-shaped tail.

From the bow of an ocean liner, Jules reaches his arms out as the whale cranes its wide neck and hugs all of the whale that he can: a teeny tiny hug for a huge fellow.

Soon the ship docks in Africa and Jules realizes a hug just won't do, so he kisses the ground -- "the earth so precious, so fragile, so round," McDonnell writes.

Go Green Today!

10 Ways to Help Children Be Green:

1. Praise them for flipping off lights and turning off water. Then reward them by using the money saved from utility bills for a treat.

2. Help them collect fruit peels and other scraps for a compost pile. Then when it's ready, let them dig for earthworms.

3. Encourage them to take faster showers. Kids love hour-glass and wind-up timers. See if they can beat your time.

4. Walk or bicycle with them to school. Bring along a pedometer to see how far you go. Then at the end of the year, add up your miles and reward them with a camping trip.

5. Show them how to sort cans, bottles and other recyclables. Then challenge them to generate as little trash each week as they can by reusing some things and avoiding others.

6. Take them on a hike up a hill where they can look out and see the world, help them plant their own tree or bring them to a flower field and let them look for bees, butterflies and bunnies.

7. Help them grow organic vegetables, fruits and berries. Give them Popsicle sticks and colored pens to make plant markers, and a watering can. Plant marigolds to discourage pests naturally.

8. Ask them to help pack their lunch using reusable containers, and include recycled paper napkins, biodegradable plastic utensils and goodies made from the fruits and vegetables they've grown.

9. Hold an Earth party. Hand out fabric shopping totes to paint, make their favorite animal from old boxes and odds and ends, juice organic fruits to pour over shaved iced, plant wheat grass in eggshells.

10. Walk the block with them to pick up trash, adopt a roadside to clean up or form a Roots & Shoots club with their friends. For more on Jane Goodall's program, click here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Little Red Pen

By Susan Stevens Crummel
Illustrated by Janet Stevens
Harcourt, 2011
$16.99, ages 4-8, 56 pages 

A high-strung pen incites a drawer full of school supplies to help her grade papers, in this hilarious twist on two beloved fables.

The award-winning Stevens sisters play with themes from Chicken Little (the folly of hysteria) and The Little Red Hen (the importance of hard work) to suggest a funny new lesson:

Spreading unfound fear and panic can help get a job done -- especially if you're a paranoid pen in a storybook and you're working with a gullible set of school supplies.

One day after class, a red correction pen in glasses and a pointy red cap proclaims in Chicken Little fashion that a catastrophe will occur -- if papers aren't corrected before students return the next day.

However, like Little Red Hen, she can't find anyone to help her.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Emerald Atlas

Book One: The Books of Beginning
By John Stephens
$17.99, ages 8-12, 432 pages

Three orphans travel back in time through the pages of an atlas to guard secrets that brought the world into being in the most talked-about children's novel of the year.

In this first book in a trilogy, the writer for the TV series Gilmore Girls crafts a spirited, page-turning fantasy that's at times derivative of C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, but sets itself apart with it own cleverly realized sequences of time travel.

Stephens deftly manages the consequences of going back in time and changing the course of history with a deceivingly simple plot that has the orphans rescuing a village from a terrible past and, at least for now, guarding the world from a witch.

While wandering the eerie rooms of their new orphanage, siblings Kate, Michael and Emma discover an ancient book of wizardry that transports them 15 years into the past where a witch is ransoming the town's children for the very book that sent them there.

Trailer for The Emerald Atlas