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Friday, August 21, 2015

Appleblossom the Possum, written by Holly Goldberg Sloan and illustrated by Gary A. Rosen. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2015. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"Little Appleblossom forgets that she is scared. Now she is just interested. She watches as the people walks straight out into the dew-covered grass and picks up the red ball. The dog jumps to his feet as his mouth opens and he makes a high-pitched noise filled with anticipation. The people throws the red ball. It sails through the air."

Ms. Sloan surely knows how to write a grand story. She has proved that time, and again. If you haven't had the great pleasure to read I'll Be There (2012), Counting by 7s (2013) and Just Call My Name (2014), head to your local public library or bookstore and get ready for a weekend of fine reading.

If you are looking for a family read before the kids head back to school, meet Appleblossom and her family. She is the last born in a litter of 13 and has much to learn if she wants to survive on her own. Their education is meant to help the young possums understand their role in the world of nocturnal beings; it comes with warnings, with advice and with guidance to keep them safe and thriving.

"Mama Possum explains: "When something really, truly scares us, all kinds of things happen. Our lungs slow down. Our arms and legs go limp and then they turn stiff. Our eyes fall shut. And for some of us, our tongues roll out and spit starts bubbling from the corners of our mouths." A smile spreads across Mama Possum's face. There's more good news to share. "The final touch is smell. Dead things stink. That's just a fact. And to add to the illusion of death, we possums can release a gas. A real stink bomb. "

So, the A-babies learn about acting, their perfect defence when faced with impending danger. That is not all they learn, and it is certainly not all that we learn in this fascinating tale. When Mama leaves her babies to fend for themselves, Appleblossom, and her brothers Amlet and Antonio, stick together. They feel safer that way. On their first night, having learned about dangers presented by dogs, cars and people, they are foraging for sustenance when Appleblossom's attention is drawn to a nearby backyard and the little 'people, she sees there. In her eagerness to learn more, she climbs onto the roof and accidentally falls down the chimney, landing her in a house that presents untold danger, especially from the resident dog. Appleblossom is terrified, as are her brothers. While she tries to navigate the dangers and joys of her captivity, her brothers are off to find the help needed to rescue their little sister.

Gary Rosen's art matches the tone of the tale, adds humor, and brings the possums to life for eager readers. While we are caught up in the pace of the story presented, we all also privy to a great deal of new learning about the possum itself.

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