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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Snappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book, written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim Miller. Viking, Penguin. 2016. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"He scooted up the
tall, tall hill.

He shimmied through
the forest.

You're an awful narrator.
You're just describing
what you see in the
illustrations."

Remove this book's paper cover to get an early taste for how Snappsy the Alligator feels about this intrusion into his life. 'Hey! Do you mind?' he asks as we stumble upon him reading his very own book in bed. Before moving to the story, be sure to take a close look at the endpapers to see just how normal his life is.

It is no wonder that he is clearly annoyed when a nosy narrator makes unfair claims about his day and his life. Intimating that Snappsy needs a nap is only the first of many annoyances for the young and fashionable alligator. The next is Snappsy's concern that all the narrator is doing is describing the illustrations, not really making an attempt to report any truths. In fact, the narrator portrays Snappsy in this way:

"Snappsy, the big, mean alligator kept looking for food. He liked to eat
tiny, defenseless birds and soft, fuzzy bunnies."

Nothing could be further from the truth and Snappsy lets the audience know that he buys FOOD at a grocery store, like everyone else. While trying to convince readers that this alligator only eats 'p' foods, a look at his grocery list proves otherwise. It continues when Snappsy returns home. His door sports a sign: No Narrators Allowed. Once Snappsy goes inside, the narrator imagines what might be happening which is again far from the truth.

To prove that his story is not as boring as the narrator makes it seem, we learn that Snappsy is planning a party.

"You know what?
I did not ask to
be in this book! I
was just having a
normal day! And
suddenly you were
talking about what
I was doing, so I'm
throwing a party to
make things more
interesting! I hope
you're happy! Now
I just want you to
buzz  off!"

Party in full swing, guests arrive for a fun time, and then, a surprise guest with an ulterior motive.

The alternating voices, and the varying perspective make this a wonderful book for reading aloud. It's hard to believe it is the debut work for both author and illustrator. They each do an exemplary job of creating a flawless picture book. Full of humor and warmth, with the just right amount of righteous indignation and unpredictable narration, it is a story that will be enjoyed time and time again. I can't wait to share it with a class in the fall.                                                                      

Friday, July 29, 2016

Fluffy Strikes Back, by Ashley Spires. Kids Can Press, 2016. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"HOPPING HAIRBALL!

It has a communication device!

The other aliens are coming for him!

He'll have to find another way to the cadets.

He's been hit!"

This new spinoff introduces Sgt. Fluffy Vandermere. He's Binky's boss and his responsibility for leading P.U.R.S.T (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) means that he keeps Earth's humans safe from alien invaders every single day. He does it with such flair. Any unsuspecting insect is fair game for annihilation! Click, his assistant, ensures that relevant facts are transmitted. Fluffy's life behind the desk has been effective, but he will admit to a touch of laziness, Fighting off an alien attack is not as easy as it once was.

Still, when the aliens breach the base's safety net and take over, it is up to Fluffy to make the plan that will  succeed in deposing the insect infiltration. From his 'secret bunker', with Click and Engineer Darryl in tow, Fluffy becomes aware that hostages have been taken and must be freed.  Is it an impossible task, or can they take back their base? You will have to read this graphic novel to find out for yourselves.

Terrific design, clever and witty dialogue, and expressive silliness will attract new fans and satisfy their need to return to Binky's milieu in this most welcome adventure. It's a book perfect for kids, but the adults who share it will have a great time reading it, too. Oh, and yes, there is some litterbox funny stuff!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

This Is My Dollhouse, written and illustrated by Giselle Potter. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"It feels stuffy in her room,
so we decide to go play on
her swing set instead. I worry
the whole way home that I
can never invite Sophie over.
She would hate my dollhouse.
But Sophie does come over.
I show her everything but my
dollhouse. "What should we
play?" she asks. I stand in
front of a pile of blankets ... "

I have, in my basement, a dollhouse that my brother and sister-in-law won in a raffle many years ago. They gifted it to Erin and she spent many happy hours playing with it. When she moved to Victoria, the dollhouse stayed with me. It is quite large. There will come a time when Sicily and Chelsea will play with it when they are visiting. For now, they are still too young. Matters not, it will be here when they are ready.

So, I feel a special affinity for this book by Giselle Potter about two girls and their very different dollhouses. We meet the narrator first and she tells us all about her house. She built it from a cardboard box; her family includes a grandma mouse, a bear daddy, and three dolls who pose as mommy and twin sisters. She explains how she has made the various accessories so important to her imaginary play. That play is reminiscent of a 'day in the life' as she shows readers what happens for her dollhouse family, from getting dressed in the morning to being tucked into bed at night.

Her friend Sophie has a 'perfect' dollhouse. The family is perfect, and everything matches. There is not much going on in that house, and it is reflected in the girls' play. The narrator offers suggestion for making it more fun. Sophie is not interested.

"Let's make the family go on vacation!" I suggest.
"I don't have an airplane for them, so they can't," Sophie says firmly.
I keep quiet in case she thinks my idea for an airplane is stupid."

Fearing Sophie's disdain when the two visit at the narrator's home, the cardboard house is hidden ... until Sophie finds it and the two thoroughly enjoy an afternoon of creative play, both inside and outside. When it's time for Sophie to leave, she is not ready. They say goodbye promising to play again tomorrow, and perhaps the day after that.

Ms. Potter's signature ink and watercolor artwork is full of warmth and familiarity. It is easy for young readers to become part of the story and consider the wonder for their unique ability to play and invent their own stories. Once done with the reading, remove the cover to see step-by-step instructions for making a dollhouse of your own. Get out the paints, scissors, odds and ends, and you are on your way to a day of building something that will generate endless hours of imaginary play.
                                                                       

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

HiLo Book 2: Saving the Whole Wide World, by Judd Winick. Random House, 2016. $17.99 ages 6 and up

 "He stopped a bunch
of evil robots
from destroying Earth.

It was hard, but his job
on his planet is stopping
bad robots. So he's pretty
good at it.

Then he was gone."

The first in the HiLo series, The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, garnered fans for Judd Winick, and a huge number of readers who have been anxiously awaiting this new volume. As with other sequels, readers hope that the new book will meet their expectations and provide as much enjoyment and wonder as the first. I did not read the first, but I know many readers who are going to be very pleased with its sequel.

Daniel Jackson (D.J.) remains content to be average, despite the fact that his siblings are all much more accomplished than he is. We know him to be a friend, daring and trustworthy which is shown in the relationship he has with HiLo. HiLo is not fully aware of his many powers and has memory lapses. Trying to fit in is an almost impossible task when you are a robot boy.

After their last adventure, HiLo returns to create chaos at school with D.J. and Gina as he tries to fit in with the others. It's a near impossible task. D.J. wants to keep him away from bullies and Gina concerns herself with his random actions. And that's at school.

Around town portals are opening and allowing entrance to strange beings whose presence is disconcerting, to say the least. One of them, Polly, tries to help, as does D.J.'s sister, Lily. Full of action and humor, and without adult help, the kids work hard to make the monsters retreat. Razorwork, their leader, is not pleased. HiLo's encounters with Razorwork evoke visions that bring fear and sadness.

Sequels can be off-putting. That is not the case here. At the same time, this second volume stands on its own as a story filled with charm, humor, action, tragedy, and some great characters. I like the way the friendship stays strong and even grows. HiLo is a genuine character whose food choices and word use make the reader stop and think. D.J. is a grand friend who supports and defends HiLo through all of their escapades. Gina keeps her cool and tries to help them do the same.

Readers will love the details that the author uses to express emotions, to vary the settings, and to create unique and compelling creatures. Guy Major gives life through his vibrant colors. This is perfect fare for those kids who love graphic novels.  Give it to fans, and be sure to ask if they are ready for the next one, set for release in 2017. I bet they will be!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Treat, word and pictures by Mary Sullivan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $20.99 ages 3 and up



"Treat ...

         Treat?

                  TREAT!

One word is all it takes ... "

Please tell me that you know Ball (HMH, 2013) by Mary Sullivan. If not, get yourself to the library and check it out for your kids this summer. It is brilliant! And this is its companion - same dog, different obsession, and just as entertaining and smart.

All this plump pooch is after is a treat! His nose leads him from place to place in the house on the hunt for someone to share one with him. First up is a cheerio-munching toddler. Begging doesn't work, nor do tricks to get her to share. It looks like she might share; then, she downs the last bit of cereal without remorse. Same thing happens with a hot dog lunch. Not a crumb remains when the older child leaves the table to pursue an interest in space.

What about the older brother? He's willing to share his drawings and he doesn't have a treat. The fact that the dog awakens Grandma from a nap and hungrily eyes her false teeth in a glass on the nightstand, or that he disturbs Grandpa while brushing his teeth has no affect. He's off to grab the baby's bottle. Only then does he hear someone hollering TREAT and that must mean it's for him! His excitement is quashed when he sees what the toddler has gathered for his dog dish. YUK!

As often happens when you don't get what you so badly want, a nap is plagued by dreams of food, food, food of all kinds, and a nightmare. Is it someone actually shouting the word 'treat' that forces him from sleep? He's off to see ... and delighted to find just exactly what he has been searching for all day long. Ahhh!

There is only one word of text, but the drama is evident on every page. The expressions and body language are hilarious and will have kids chucking at the many antics he employs to satisfy his craving.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Two White Rabbits, written by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Translated by Elisa Amado. Groundwood Books. 2015. $ 18.95 ages

"When we travel, I also
sleep and I dream that I
am moving, that I'm not
stopping.

But we do stop. Because
the people who are taking
us don't always take us
where we are going."

What stands out for me throughout this powerful and emotional
story is the strength of the love that exists between a young girl and her father. The two are travelling together. While the trip is extremely tiring for the father who is a migrant looking for a better life for the two, the daughter is naïve to the dangers and the stress that accompany them. It is the story of far too many as Patsy Aldana, President of the IBBY Foundation, writes in an endnote:

'The father and daughter in this book are leaving their
home and the world they know and love to go to a
different country. Maybe it is because the father cannot
find work and a way to support his daughter at home.
Maybe because the world they live in has been destroyed
by violence, war and danger. We don't know."

Because the child is the narrator, the story is full of adventure and love and an interest in what is happening around her as they travel. She and her Papa leave with what they can carry. As they go, she counts chickens, and animals, and birds. Their journey is long, and complicated as they find ways to move from one place to another. They cross a river by raft, the countryside by rail, always accompanied by a coyote (surely a symbol of those who prey on the desperation felt by so many).

With her father near, she is often oblivious to the dangers inherent in such a journey. Always she has her tiny stuffed rabbit for comfort and familiarity. They run from soldiers, and stop when Papa must work to make enough money to move forward. She makes a friend while her father works. As he says goodbye, the boy trades his two white rabbits for her small stuffed one. As they approach a wall in the desert, the rabbits are released and we are left to wonder how their story will end. We do not know.

Perfectly conceived and beautifully illustrated, it is a story that will be interpreted in different ways depending on the age of the children listening. The digital artwork adds a poignancy that is palpable, including many details that are hinted at in the text. Every page adds to the sadness inherent in similar stories being told around the world. It should spark discussion and empathy for those whose bravery and desperation lead them to make very difficult decisions for their future.

Bravo!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Thank You Book, by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, Hachette. 2016. $10.99 ages 3 and up

"PIGGIE!

You are forgetting someone!

Someone VERY important.

Really?

Oh! Now I know who you are
talking about."


Piggie is fully aware of how lucky she is!. So, in this the final book in the Elephant and Piggie series, she wants to be sure to thank every single friend who has made her life so special. They are all very important to her. As he often does, Gerald tries to protect Piggie from herself by suggesting that it might be very difficult to remember EVERYONE. What if she forgets someone?  Won't she feel terrible?

Being Piggie, she assures Gerald he need not worry. She is about to engage in a THANK-O-RAMA and no one will be left out. Off she goes. She is a 'thanking machine'. She even remembers the flies ( you know, the ones from I Really Like Slop!). Every character from all of the first 24 books gets a nod of gratitude from said Pig. Gerald persists in his worry that someone is going to be missed ... someone VERY important.

When she can't think of anyone else, Gerald is perplexed and angry. A goof needs to be amended. Piggie heaps profuse thanks on her best buddy. While he appreciates her gratitude, he tells her that he is not the one she should thank.

"WHO DID I FORGET TO THANK!?!" she screeches.

Gerald quietly reminds his best friend about the loyal readers who have been part of their journey.

"Thank you for being our reader!
We could not be "us" without you.
You are the best!"

'Nuff said. 
                                                                           
 
And you heard it here ... not for the first time. The best $250 you could ever spend would get you this incredible library for your kids, or for a newborn's shower! Get your friends together and give the gift of a lifetime!