Wednesday, December 21, 2011

3 Magic Balls by Richard Egielski

Copyright © 2000 by Richard Egielski

Rudy works in his Uncle Dinkleschmidt’s toy store. One day a mysterious, strangely attired woman enters carrying a glass box containing three colored balls with painted faces.   She explains that she wants to ditch the balls at the store because they are too much trouble.  When Uncle Dinkleschmidt takes the box, one of the balls appears to wink at Rudy. The woman hands Rudy a whistle, without an explanation as to its purpose, and then simply vanishes into thin air.
Uncle Dinkleschmidt has a dentist appointment, but as he departs, he cautions Rudy against playing  with any of the toys. The mischievous balls immediately entice Rudy by whispering,  “Come. . . .Come. . .  Come,” then louder "Take. . . . Take. . . . Take" and finally shouting, "BOUNCE! BOUNCE! BOUNCE!"  Rudy, a typical child, immediately disregards his uncle’s previous warning, retrieves the balls and bounces one - up pops a yellow rubber man.  The yellow man then yells, “now meet my brothers,” and bounces the other two balls. People on the street are awed when the three rubber men, with Rudy on one of their backs, bounce out the store and then down the street.
As the four of them cause quite a commotion, an out of control airplane comes into view. The quick thinking yellow man reduces the speed of the airplane by bracing himself against a flag pole and grabbing the plane's wings.  The blue man suffocates the smoke billowing from the plane, by swallowing the smoke and the red man cushions the planes as it crash lands.
As a result of their heroism, one rubber man is stretched out of shape, one is swollen and one is flat as a pancake.  The ball brothers are courageous but whiny, and they begin to bawl about their altered physical appearance. Rudy is at a loss as for what to do, but then he remembers the whistle. He blows it and the rubber men shrink back down to balls. Rudy quickly gathers them up and scampers back to the store, arriving only moments before Uncle Dinkleschmidt.  On payday, you can guess what Rudy does - he informs his uncle that he wants to purchase the balls.

3 Magic Balls is a book that my kids enjoy as much for the story contained between the covers, as they do for the story that they believe comes after the book ends.  They are confident that those naughty ball brothers will not be well-behaved and that is why Rudy purchased them.  It is great fun for the kids to imagine the adventures that Rudy and the 3 colorful balls will have, once Rudy takes them home.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Adventures of Sparrowboy by Brian Pinkney

Material from The Adventures of Sparrowboy by Brian Pinkney copyright © 1997.  Used by permission of Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

Henry is a paperboy who is left feeling glum from the depressing headlines in the newspaper. I hear ya Henry!  Henry muses that everything would be better if  the superhero Falconman was there. In the comic strip Falconman, there is a mystical falcon who transfers his power of flight to a state trooper, transforming him into Falconman. Unfortunately, the falcon is rendered flightless and does not regain the power until the trooper and falcon return to the original transfer site.

After finishing his reading, Henry hops on his bike and sets out on his route. Unexpectedly, a sparrow swoops down and lands smack dab in Henry's path. He slams on the brakes to avoid a collision and is propelled over the handlebars.  To his amazement, instead of crashing to the ground, he soars in the air. Henry has becomes . . .  Sparrowboy!
Henry uses his power of flight to solve some minor disturbances along his route.  The neighborhood bully sics his German Shephard on two little brothers.  The bully also tossed a little girl's cat in the air, asking "does your cat have nine lives?" Henry is resourceful and solves the problems simply. In addition, he saves the now flightless sparrow from several near death experiences.
Henry questions why the little sparrow does not simply fly away from dangerous predicaments. He does not immediately get the connection between his newfound flying ability and the Falconman comic strip.
Once he sees the sparrow falling after attempting to flee from a cat, Henry catches it with one of his newspapers. The newspaper is opened to the Falconman comic strip.  It is then that Henry realizes that a similar transfer of power happened with he nearly collided with the sparrow. As in The Adventures of Falconman, the only way for the bird to regain its power of flight is for both to return to the near collision point. They do, and the sparrow is then able to fly away. Henry, back on solid ground,  heads home feeling a little bit better about life because of his contribution to the block.

Brian Pinkney illustrations are very distinctive because he paints using the "scratchboard technique". Here is a link to his website where the process is explained.  For someone like me, without an ounce of artistic talent, I am awed by illustrators, because drawing and painting is completely outside the realm of my capabilities.

As an African American family, I am always happy to find books that feature characters that bear some physical resemblance to my children. It is very rare to find African American boys as superheros, so I was extra eager when I found The Adventures of Sparrowboy a few years ago. My boys love any superhero, regardless of race, but I think they feel a special connection to this book, because they can see themselves in Henry. In addition to pretending to be Superman, Spiderman, Batman, they also pretend to be Sparrowboy. I am a fan of Brian Pinkney and his wife Andrea Pinkney with whom he often collaborates. Our personal collection contains many of their books. I hope to showcase more of their talent in the future.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Favorite Series Week - Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas illustrated by Korky Paul

Winnie the Witch © Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, published by HarperCollins Publishers ©Winnie the Witch illustration Korky Paul

Winnie the Witch lives in the forest in an all black castle with an all black interior - fixtures, furnishings and carpeting. Her companion is a black cat named Wilbur and he blends almost seamlessly into the all black decor. This does not present a problem when Wilbur's bright green eyes are open, but when he shuts them, things go awry: Winnie constantly sits on and tumbles over, Wilbur.
After a nasty fall down several flights of stairs, Winnie gets so exasperated that she casts a spell turning Wilbur green - she can now see him wherever he is in the house.  All is well until Winnie, spotting Wilbur sleeping on her bed, places him outside. A now green Wilbur blends into the tall grass and as Winnie hurries outdoors one day, she trips over him and does a triple sommersault  into a rosebush. Ouch!
In a fit of rage, Winnie casts a spell transforming Wilbur into a multicolored cat with a yellow body, pink tail, blue whiskers and purple legs. Now, regardless of the surroundings, he can be seen. Winnie is pleased, but Wilbur is miserable.  He scampers up a tree to hide in shame.  His appearance is so ludicrous that even the birds mock him.
Winnie faces a dilemma.  A sullen Wilbur won't come down from the tree because he is displeased with his color. Winnie loves Wilbur and wants him to be happy, but she is unwilling to continue tumbling over him. Winnie ponders their predicament and eventually comes up with a creative and very colorful solution that will please them both.

I bought Winnie the Witch and Winnie's Midnight Dragon a year ago, in anticipation of my daughter slowly moving away from the baby stage where she requests her favorite 10 books everyday and disregards any other titles. In the interim, although my eldest is becoming averse to what he calls "girl books," I do read them to both my sons.  The boys gladly make an exception for the Winnie series, because the stories are entertaining and because Korky Paul has added bugs, snakes and other bizarre little animals crawling around Winnie's very cool castle.  And, lest I forget, they remind me that, "Wilbur is funny and he is a boy cat." All of those little details add to the boy appeal.

Our personal collection is heavily overweighted in the "boy book" category. I realize that I need to purchase more with female protagonists but there seems to be an overabundance of the "sassy little girl" books on the market which I dislike.  Winnie the Witch is a refreshing alternative. Winnie is not obsessed with her appearance, so she is also the anti-Barbie. She is quirky with  long unkempt, wiry hair with a yellow bow at the end.  She has unshaven legs under her cool yellow and orange striped tights. I was unaware until recently that there is a series of  10 or so Winnie the Witch books. I was so excited at the discovery that I purchased two more titles as a Christmas gift for my little girl, but they have not yet arrived.  I look forward to finally introducing my daughter to the delightful Winnie the Witch series in the coming months.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Favorite Series Week - Miss Smith Reads Again! by Michael Garland

Copyright © 2006 by Michael Garland

Zach is a student in 2nd grade. Miss Smith, his teacher, possesses a book that contains classic stories. Miss Smith is no ordinary teacher and this is no ordinary book – it is an "Incredible Storybook." Once Miss Smith begins to read, the characters come to life and the class is transported into the story.  In this, the second book in  the Miss Smith Series, Miss Smith opens her book to read from the The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle.  Miss Smith cautions the class against interfering with the characters because it will cause a change in the story that will prevent it from properly ending.  "The story has to end-otherwise it won't go back into the book." As Miss Smith reads, the Amazon jungle begins to appear in the classroom. The class crosses a fallen tree that connects the outside world of their classroom to the Lost World of the book. And so the adventure begins.
The inconspicuous class, peering from behind bushes, observes two men from the story, Professor Challenger and Professor Summerlee arguing. Unbeknownst to the two characters, a T. Rex is creeping up behind them. Zach notices it and before Miss Smith can prevent him, Zach shouts out a warning to the two men, who take heed and flee.
Zach is very knowledgeable about dinosaurs, so he is able to help his class evade them. Once the danger passes, everyone is accounted for, except for Miss Smith.  They search for her by following  her footprints and eventually hear her distress call from high above them: she has been snatched by a pterodactyl and placed inside its nest. Zach has an idea to free her. He and the class gather branches and make a huge commotion, frightening the flying dinosaur away long enough for Miss Smith to escape.
Once free, Miss Smith finishes reading The Lost World and the class finds itself safely back in school.  It is then that  Zach presents a pterodactyl egg he has improperly taken from the Lost World.  Miss Smith stares at the egg with her mouth agape, and then the egg begins to hatch . . .

A few years ago I walked into the  library and two of the Miss Smith books were on display. The titles immediately caught my eye because the bright cover illustrations reminded me of images from a View Finder I had as a kid, except without the 3D effect. I flipped through the pages and I knew that these books would be a hit with my then 4 year old eldest son.  I read both Miss Smith books, one after another, and he was hooked. When he really connects with a book, he will usually interrupt midway through the first reading and ask excitedly, “Are there more of these?”or  say, “I don’t ever want to return this book.”  He did both. My second son is now enjoying reading the Miss Smith series with us. I have no doubt, in another 1 ½ years, we will still be rereading the Miss Smith series, and my youngest will be joining us.

Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook, Miss Smith Reads Again!, Miss Smith and the Haunted Library and Miss Smith Under the Ocean are the titles of the now four books in the series and they are all superb! I'm delighted that the series introduces the kids, albeit briefly, to a variety of classic titles such as The Lost World, Moby Dick, Treasure Island etc. As Michael Garland demonstrates through his magical Miss Smith series, "reading really can take you anywhere!"

Monday, December 12, 2011

Favorite Series Week - Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman

Copyright ©2006 by John Himmelman

The chickens on the Greenstalk farm are quite extraordinary.  From Monday through Saturday, whenever there is a mishap on the family’s farm, a flock of approximately 30 chickens come to the family and farm animals’ aide.  Farmer Greenstalk drops his watch down the well, the dog eats the son's book report, a duck steals the family truck, a cow gets blown into a tree, the sheep get lost,  and one day Mrs. Greenstalk is simply too tired to cook dinner - no problem,  Chickens to the Rescue!
There is always one chicken nearby, on the lookout, when a distressing events occurs.  This chicken surely must inform the others, because the rest of the flock immediately appears in full force. That is except on Sunday, when daughter Greenstalk spills her breakfast on the floor making a mess.  Accustomed to the chickens swooping in, the family waits expectantly, but the chickens are a no show.
The family investigates and finds the flock sleeping soundly in the chicken coop. Another set of animals, however, is perfectly willing to take over hero duties.  The ending of Chickens to the Rescue flows perfectly into the second, equally enjoyable book in the series Pigs to the Rescue.

The antics of the chickens and pigs are hilarious and the kids enjoy shouting, “Chickens to the Rescue” and "Pigs to the Rescue."  They eagerly make the appropriate clucking and oinking sound effects. Spotting the single chicken or pig with its ears cocked for a problem is a big part of the fun.  When the animals come to the rescue, to say that it is disorderly is an understatement, but the chickens do successfully get the job done, the pigs on the other hand . . .  The double pages spreads of all of the chickens or pigs, each frantically working, are full of zany details that kids will look over repeatedly. We have not yet read Himmelman's latest book in the series Cows to the Rescue but will do so soon.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Favorite Books for Toddlers Week - BOING by Nick Bruel

Text and illustrations copyright ©2004 by Nick Bruel

The day has come for baby kangaroo to learn to jump.  Mama and her joey are accompanied by their friends, grasshopper, frog and rabbit.  A koala sits in a tree munching on a leaf and observing them.  Mama begins to leap around producing a “Boing, Boing, Boing” while the joey watches attentively. The animals marvel, “Wowie, Yowie, Zowie.”
When it is her turn, with words of encouragement from everyone, the joey crouches, sticks her tongue out in concentration and leaps. She immediately falls to the ground. Each animal in turn attempts to demonstrate to the joey how easy it is to jump, the grasshopper, the frog then the rabbit, “Boing, Boing, Boing.”  Each time the joey attempts it, she lands flat on her face or on her back with a “BLOMP,”  “BLOOMP,” and “BLOP.”  The animals gasp, “Oh Dear!", "Oh My!", "Oh Golly!”   
With each failed attempt by the joey, the Koala inches down the tree.  Once at the foot of the tree, he strolls over to the joey and ask, “What do you have in your pocket?”   In a comical illustration, the joey begins to pulls out a multitude of assorted items from a book to a piggy bank, as her mama covers her eyes in mortification.
Once her pocket is empty, the wise koala encourages the joey to try again.  The joey does, and in the last page, which is a pop up, she succeeds, “BOING” to the delight of everyone.

BOING has been adored by all my children over the last four years. After what amounts to close to a thousand reads by me and by them combined, it will soon be placed into the baby box with great wistfulness.  There is not a lot of text but what there is, is quite funny.  Bruel’s brightly colored illustrations really provide great  entertainment.  The kids enjoy pointing out each of the items from the joey’s pocket, as I list them.  Toddlers delight in pointing out the butterfly on every page.  They all really laugh at the expressions on the various animals’ faces:  the joey scratching her head and sticking out her tongue as she concentrates, the animals covering their faces or closing an eye as the joey falls, the wry smile on the cuddly koala's face as he slowly climbs down the tree.

When I read BOING, the kids are all sitting on my lap and on the arm of the chair.  At the end, everyone including me quite frequently, the old mama, starts leaping around, shouting “Boing, Boing, Boing.” You see, on the last page, the animals provide an irresistible invitation to the readers to leap around.  A word of caution to parents: No matter how badly your children beg you to read this book, and they will, DO NOT READ BOING AT BEDTIME!!!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Favorite Books for Toddlers Week - Bark, George by Jules Feiffer

Text and pictures copyright ©1999 by Jules Feiffer

George is a puppy with a problem. When his mother commands, "Bark George," he does not emit a  ruff ruff, bow wow,  yip yip or even an arf arf. Instead he meows. His mother explains that cats meow but dogs bark. She then repeats her command, “Bark George.”  This time, George still does not bark, but he  does not meow either; to her dismay, he quacks,  then oinks and then moos.  
George's vexed mother takes him to the veterinarian. The Vet goes through the same routine as the mother. He commands George to bark -  George meows. The Vet puts on latex gloves, reaches deep down George’s throat and pulls out . . . a cat. He then repeats his command to George to bark -  George quacks. The Vet puts on even longer latex gloves and reaches deeper down George’s throat and pulls out . . .  a duck.  Using ever longer gloves and reaching ever deeper,  he hauls out a  pig, and finally to the astonishment of everyone - a huge cow.  The Vet commands George to bark. George is cured – he barks! Both the Vet and George’s mom are elated. 
On the walk home, the proud canine mom wants to show off her puppy to the people on the street. When she commands, “Bark George,” you will be shocked at the sound that comes out of George's mouth.  Your little ones will gasp, “Oh no,” and then begin giggling uncontrollably.

As with all three books that I am featuring this week, I first began reading Bark George when my oldest was a toddler and my second was a newborn.  I will always have fond memories of acting this book out almost every day when the boys were big enough.  They would pretend to be the parent, and I would be George. They would command, "Bark George,"  -  I would meow.  They would pretend to pull a cat out of my throat, and so on, until the end when they heaved and pulled and finally collapsed on the floor tugging a cow out of my mouth.  Even a child too young to know their animal sounds will enjoy Bark George because of the illustrations. Be prepared to read this book at least twice a day for the first three months and then once a day for the next year! Trust me, I now read it to my daughter who loves it too and my boys still enjoy hearing it.  Jules Feiffer's books really have staying power!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Favorite Books for Toddlers Week - Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee & Tanya Lewis Lee illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Material from Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee copyright © 2002,  Illustrations copyright © 2002 by Kadir Nelson, Used by permission of Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

The first illustration shows an exhausted mother, supine on the floor with the clock indicating 3:00 a.m. The toddler, full of energy, is bouncing on poor mom. This story follows the day of a typical toddler, from morning to night with visits to the park, meals and bath time  in between, who has to be implored to go back to bed, to share, to hurry etc. Even though the parents are chiding the child, the tone is never harsh. A form of "please baby" is always used.

"Keep off the wall, baby baby, please, baby."

"You share that ball, please, baby baby baby."

"Don't eat the sand baby baby baby, please"
This is a very simple story with sparse text, which makes it ideal for even the youngest of children. The repetition is soothing; however, it is Kadir Nelson's  illustrations of this adorable toddler and her true to life behavior that will captivate your child. Nelson perfectly captures the exuberance, defiance, mischievousness and curiosity that make a toddler incredibly trying yet miraculously wonderful!

"Please, Baby, Please,"  will always have a special place in my heart. It is the book that has been requested the most, having always been in rotation since my oldest was approximately 2. The pages all have rips and most are no longer attached to the spine: it has been well loved and perused by three sets of very little hands for 4 years now. As my youngest speeds toward her third birthday at about a mile a minute, it is almost time to place "Please, Baby Please" into the baby box to be stored beside ultrasound pictures, first onesies, first footprints, hospital bracelets etc. It will be a sad day indeed when I no longer have a child small enough to climb unto my lap, hold out this book and pronounce it, "Peas, Baby, Peas."

There is another book by the same author and illustrator trio titled, Please, Puppy Please which is also enjoyable.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend illustrated by John Manders

Text copyright © 2007 by Catherine Friend
Illustrations copyright © 2007 by John Manders

Jack the cat has a hankering for an omelet, but he lacks the essential ingredient -  an egg.  He decides to build a very enticing nest so that he can lure an unsuspecting bird in to lay an egg. Oh what a fine nest, Jack builds. He pilfers supplies from all around the farm.  He builds a ramp leading to the nest with a welcome mat at the foot and sets out corn as bait.  All he has to do is wait.
Jack’s hard work is rewarded in short order.  A chicken walks by and sees the nest, “Caramba! A perfect nest.” She climbs into it and lays a small egg. A duck waddles by and sees the nest, “Sacre bleu! Zee perfect nest.” She shoves the chicken off the nest, then she lays a medium sized egg.  A  goose then strolls by, “Great balls of fire! A perfect nest.” She kicks the duck out of the nest and lays a large egg.
Jack begins licking his chops. His plan is a success: there are even more eggs than Jack anticipated. But alas, it turns out, the nest is too perfect -- none of the birds will leave it.  All three fowl stay in the nest squabbling and jostling each other and trying to force the others out.  Jack attempts to get them to scram, crying  "Fire!" then "Flood!, then "Wolf!"  But it is all for naught, because they refuse to budge.
After several days, an exasperated Jack proclaims that a neighboring farm has an even better nest that is empty.  All three birds immediately abandon the perfect nest and depart for the next farm, leaving their eggs behind.  At last Jack can prepare his omelet, but so much time has elapsed that the eggs begin to hatch.  Jack being the first thing they see, the hatchlings imprint on him. “Hola, Mama," "Bonjour, Maman," and "Howdy, Ma" say the chick, duckling and gosling respectively to Jack.  They immediately plead to be dried, fed and played with. Jack, horrified by the demanding babies, tries to ditch them but they find him each time and drag him back to the nest.
Finally when the birds tell him they are tired and cold, Jack’s compassion overcomes his appetite and he climbs into the nest with all three nestled next to him. It is then that he realizes - he really does have the perfect nest.

The kids will enjoy hearing you speak with Spanish, French and colloquial English accents for the different birds and will eagerly join in.  Unfortunately, this behavior will carry over after the story ends and your children will begin yelling out “Sacre bleu”, “Caramba”, or “Great balls of fire” at the most inopportune times:-)  Or as my two years old pronounces it, “Sakay burr.” Every single one of Mander’s illustrations will make you laugh out loud because of  Jack's facial expressions - the anticipation when he first builds his nest, the glee when the eggs are laid, the horror and disappointment when the eggs hatch.  All that is, except for the last two illustrations, which will simply make you say, “Awwww.”  Funny and sweet!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Detective Small in the Amazing Banana Caper by Wong Herbert Yee

Copyright © 2007 by Wong Herbert Yee

The diminutive Small with the prominent nose is back. This time, however, instead of being a firefighter, he is a trench coat wearing, Vespa riding, ace detective.  Overnight all of the bananas in town are stolen. The police are stumped so Detective Small is contacted. Combing the scene of the crime, he finds strands of hair, a foot print and a swatch of fabric snagged on a nail. Afterwords, Detective Small returns to his office to study the gathered clues.
The hairs were not from a cat or a dog;
The print was too big for a cow or hog;
The cloth dyed yellow was some type of tweed . . .
WHO could’ve pulled such a dastardly deed?

He ponders over the details of the crime and wonders why bananas, as opposed to other types of fruit, were stolen. He decides that the culprit is . . . an APE.
Small, investigates around town, sniffing around for the scent of bananas and questioning people. Fulsome Fox, an ice cream shop owner, provides Detective Small with a lead: a suspicious looking ape has been hanging around the docks. Small visits the docks and spots the gorilla.  A hilarious pursuit on foot begins -- over train tracks, atop a building, across phone wires, through a tunnel and down a ladder.  When he is cornered, the gorilla surrenders. 

Once arrested, an inspection of the the gorilla's clothes reveals no holes, and there is no match with his shoe print and the print found at the crime scene. Furthermore, a search of the gorilla's boat does not uncover any evidence. Things do not add up, and Small begins to doubt that he has the right suspect.

Through further detective work, Small determines that the gorilla has been framed and he uncovers the identity of the true culprit.  The banana stealing, gorilla framing criminal is . . ..

My eldest son was crazy over Fireman Small by Wong Herbert Yee when he was younger. Once he turned 4 he began to prefer Detective Small in the Amazing Banana Caper because of it's more complex plot which will appeal to slightly older kids. My baby girl still loves Fireman Small.