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A Glee-ful Story

A Glee-ful Story

posted by:
August 22, 2012 - 7:55am

The Land of Stories: the Wishing SpellThe fairy tale world is one that is familiar to all of us. Hearing the words "My, what big teeth you have!" or "Somebody has been eating my porridge!" instantly transports us into a magical land of evil queens and brave heroes and heroines. Actor and debut author Chris Colfer takes readers on this journey in The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.

 

Twins Alex and Conner have not had much magic in their lives lately. Their father was killed in a car accident earlier in the year, and their mother has had to work double shifts just to keep the family afloat. Quiet, bookish Alex has had an especially hard time since her father died, since she has no close friends other than her brother. Neither twin holds out much hope for a happy birthday until their oft-absent grandmother appears for a visit. Among the birthday gifts she brings is "The Land of Stories", the book of fairy tales from which their father and grandmother used to read during happier times. When Alex takes the book to bed with her and it begins to hum loudly and glow, the magic truly begins. The twins literally fall into The Land of Stories.

 

As they try to find a way home by collecting magical items for the Wishing Spell, Alex and Conner encounter many of their favorite characters. They are not exactly as they remember them from the stories, however; Cinderella was scorned by her people for being lower class, Goldilocks is a master swordswoman on the run from the law for multiple crimes, and the Big Bad Wolf Pack (descendants of the original) is working for the Evil Queen who tried to kill Snow White. Will the twins find all of the items in time to return home to their mother?

 

Colfer credits his grandmother for his writing skill, as she often edited his childhood writing by tearing it up and telling him he could do better. He infuses his Land with witty humor and quick action. Alex and Conner complement each other as the star-struck fairy tale fan and cynical wise-cracker respectively. Kids will love going along with them on the ultimate scavenger hunt and learning what happened to their favorites beyond “happily ever after.” The audiobook is narrated by Colfer himself, and his voice adds child-like humor and whimsical charm to his tale.

Sam

 
 

More Fun in the Magical Car

More Fun in the Magical Car

posted by:
August 15, 2012 - 7:57am

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies AgainIn Frank Cottrell Boyce's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, we meet The Tootings, your average twenty-first century British nuclear family: there's Dad, recently laid off from his job assembling tiny things; Mum, who works at Unbeatable Motoring Bargains; black-clad teenage Lucy; Jem, who tries to keep his head down; and Little Harry, the baby. Dad's sudden joblessness is a bit worrying to the rest of the family, but not to him. He's a very optimistic type, and rejoices in all the time he suddenly has on his hands to fix things around the house. He's a something of an inventor, like Caractacus Pott, the dad in Ian's Fleming's original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, published in 1964. And like the original dad, his inventions do not work very well.

 

He's driving the family crazy, in fact, and so, to distract him, Mum brings home a decrepit pop-top 1966 camper van for him to fix up. A real rustbucket, but a vehicle from back in the days when any reasonably careful adult could figure out how to fix his or her own car. Dad and Jem take the whole thing apart, assess their needs, and then hit up the local junkyard for parts.

 

What they find at the junkyard, and the effect it has on the camper van when they install it, plus the brief wink to Fleming's original inspiration for the story, are pleasures this writer would not dilute for any reader.

 

Although the story is inventive and picturesque, with billionaire crooks and a visit to Madagascar and a guest appearance on a French reality show called Car Stupide, most of the humor in this very funny novel is a result of the family's interactions with each other. Occasional British terms (lift, motorway), while initially puzzling for young readers, are quickly made clear by the context. Joe Berger's lively cartoon illustrations depict each phase of Chitty's reincarnation in loving detail and bring the resourceful Tootings to life.

Paula W.

 
 

Forecast: Adventure with Chance of Danger

The Storm MakersJennifer E. Smith’s first middle grade novel The Storm Makers begins on a deceptively peaceful morning on a farm in Wisconsin. It was early when 12 year-old Ruby McDuff spied the tall, disheveled stranger in a wrinkled blue shirt with silver buttons. With her nosed pressed to the glass of her bedroom window, she watched him yawn before strolling out of the family barn and away toward the main road.

 

Miles away from the nearest town and a day’s journey from the blissfully normal suburb where they used to live, the McDuff‘s tiny farm isn’t exactly walking distance from anywhere. So what could explain the stranger with the long legs and bright buttons ambling away down the lane?

 

Once, Ruby would have leapt to wake her twin brother, Simon. Once, they would have made up stories together about where the stranger had come from, or searched together for clues. That was all before, though. Before they had turned 12; before their parents left their jobs to live off the land; before, when Simon and Ruby had been two parts of one whole. These days Simon has been distant in a way he never was before. Alternately restless and sullen, teasing and resentful, Simon’s moods seem as changeable as the weather lately. Even the dogs seem to avoid him.

 

Yet even as they seem to drift apart, avoiding each other this summer seems impossible. An oppressive drought has settled in and boisterous, heated winds toss dust from one end of the farm to the other, coating all who venture outdoors in a fine, powdery grime.  Little can the twins imagine how this drought, the stranger in the barn, and a coming storm will change everything they have known, about their world and about themselves. For Simon is a Storm Maker, one of a group of incredibly rare individuals with the power to influence the weather. And he just may have flared up in time to stop a disaster of untold proportions. That is, if Ruby can protect them both from the dangerous ambitions of the most powerful Storm Maker.

 

A spirited read, The Storm Makers is recommended for readers who enjoy a blend of adventure, magic and mystery.

Meghan

 
 

Girl's Best Friend

Girl's Best Friend

posted by:
August 15, 2012 - 7:45am

Letters to LeoAmy Hest brings us the new adventures of Annie in her latest book Letters to Leo. First introduced to readers in Remembering Mrs. Rossi, Annie lives with her dad in New York City and is now in fourth grade. Her new best friend, a floppy-haired pup named Leo, is helping her cope with schoolwork, an icky boy, and a best friend who is moving away.

 

Annie writes letters to the dog, and reads them to him at night. Through them, readers learn about her hopes and sorrows, many of which revolve around her widowed father. This epistolary format and chatty tone makes for easily manageable reading segments, good for those kids for whom reading is a struggle. The drawings that decorate Annie's letters were done by Julia Denos, who is perhaps best known as a picture book illustrator, and they reinforce the book's upbeat, chirpy tone. Letters to Leo evokes empathy with a light touch.

Paula W.

 
 

Four Princes Suffering from an Identity Crisis

The Hero's Guide to Saving your KingdomAuthor Christopher Healy offers the refreshing The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, delving into the lives of four unsung heroes known collectively as Prince Charming. Inside we discover...

 

Frederic: When he met Ella once upon a dance floor, proper Prince Frederic (a.k.a. the Prince Charming of Cinderella) literally swept her off her feet. After his teensy-toed love had been located, they became engaged. But then Frederic discovers a note from Ella, gently informing him of the end of their engagement and her intent to pursue adventure. Ella’s flight and Frederic’s determination to follow ultimately lead this Prince Charming (and the other three of that moniker) to find one another.

 

Gustav: Gustav has always been overshadowed by his older brothers and wrestles with the need to prove himself a hero. It doesn’t help that his love, Rapunzel, ended up rescuing him with her daring, persistence and magically healing tears.  Now a laughingstock in his own kingdom, by the time he meets Frederic, Gustav is disgruntled and more determined than ever to prove himself.

 

Liam: Of all the heroes worth singing about, the bards really dropped the ball when they failed to name Liam, star of Sleeping Beauty. Since childhood, Liam has performed feats of the greatest daring and has enjoyed an excellent reputation among his people.  Yet when his intended, Briar Rose, reveals her waspish, mean personality and Liam decides to call off the wedding, his subjects are anything but supportive. Rejected and determined to restore his reputation as a Good Guy, Liam is off questing for adventure when he encounters Frederic and Gustav.

 

Duncan: Duncan is a bit of an odd duck who since the time of his princely boyhood has been convinced that he is gifted with magical luck (he isn’t).  He also has some rather off-putting habits like loudly naming any animal he sees. Happily, his bride Snow White loves him dearly. Yet sometimes even Snow needs a break from Duncan, and it is when he is left on his own in the forest that he meets the trio of princes. From there, the real adventure begins.

 

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a story of many parts: know-it-all dwarves, dastardly thieves, kidnappings and well-mannered giants. At its heart though, it’s a story of the friendship between the four flawed, fastidious, courageous and just plain weird individuals behind the mask of Prince Charming. Written to appeal to middle-grade readers, the humorous novel will also tickle the fancy of older readers. And with the movie rights under contract and two more books expected in the series, the adventure will soon continue.

Meghan

 
 

Old is New Again

Old is New Again

posted by:
August 8, 2012 - 7:55am

I Know a Wee PiggyCindy MooTraditional children’s songs and nursery rhymes get a modern twist in two new picture books. I Know a Wee Piggy, by Kim Norman, follows the familiar cumulative rhyming style of that childhood favorite, "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly". Instead of swallowing creatures of ever greater size, this little piggy wallows in the kaleidoscope palette of a colorful country fair. Illustrator Henry Cole uses acrylic paints and colored pencil on hot press watercolor paper to create the brightly colored, action-packed artwork. Piggy leads his boy on a merry chase as he samples red tomatoes, green grass, pink cotton candy, black paint, gray clay, and more. All that madcap action results in a perfectly piggy abstract body painting which ends up winning first place in the fair’s art show. If it hasn’t already, the song is guaranteed to stick all day long!

 

"Hey Diddle Diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon". After hearing the old nursery rhyme one night, the cows in the barnyard debate whether it is indeed possible for a cow to jump over the moon. Cindy Moo by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Jeff Mack, explores that age-old question. Even though the other cows scoff, Cindy Moo is of the mind that if the cow in the rhyme can jump the moon, by golly, she can too, and sets out to prove it can be done. After her first attempt fails – she gets no farther than over a prickly weed – the other cows say “I told you so” and suggest she give up her quest. But Cindy Moo has made a vow, and being a very determined cow, she continues to give it a go, alas, with no better results. Crestfallen, she thinks perhaps the herd was right, until she spies the moon’s reflection in a large puddle. Will Cindy Moo finally jump the moon?  Colorful pencil illustrations fill the pages with bustling bovines, but Cindy Moo, whose brown and white coat is topped by a pink bow, stands apart from the crowd in looks and determination.

Andrea

 
 

From Bad to Glad

From Bad to Glad

posted by:
August 1, 2012 - 8:22am

My No, No, No Day!Everyone has a bad day now and again, but Bella is having a very bad day. My No, No, No Day! to be exact. Beleaguered parents everywhere can relate to bad days and tantrums in this charming, too-true picture book by Rebecca Patterson.

 

It starts when Bella wakes up to find her baby brother in her room – licking her jewelry! And if that’s not enough there’s a terrible egg incident at breakfast, followed by shoes! Everything is too itchy, too wet, too hot, too much!  And bedtime is the worst.

 

Simple, yet expressive line drawings aptly convey Bella’s funny frustrations and upsets, as well others’ frayed nerves throughout the day. Who likes itchy tights anyway? After a long day of endless NO’s comes the yawn and the dawning, reluctant realization that Bella is really sleepy and really sorry for her very bad day. Mommy understands and suggests that there’s always the possibility of a cheerful day tomorrow. And there is!

Andrea

 
 

Stories to Flip For

Stories to Flip For

posted by:
July 25, 2012 - 8:11am

Balancing ActWinning TeamGold Medal SummerAs the summer games in London heat up, gymnastics is on center stage. For fans yearning to learn more, this popular sport is brought to life in three new children’s books perfect for gold medal dreamers.

 

One girl who achieved her gold medal dream was Dominique Moceanu, the youngest member of USA’s 1996 winning team. She trades the balance beam for a pen with a delightful new series of books for young readers. The Go-for-Gold Gymnasts, co-written by Alicia Thompson, follows teammates on the competitive Texas Twisters. In Balancing Act, Noelle must learn to juggle family, friends, and boys with the time and training required to make it as a star gymnast. Brittany is the focus of Winning Team, following her move to Texas to train with the best. But her teammates aren’t so fond of her, and her coaches are less than impressed. Brittany must learn quickly the true meaning of teamwork. To date, there are four books in the series (the others are Unexpected Twist and Reaching High) and each has storylines familiar to all twelve year olds, combined with the behind-the-scenes rigors of elite gymnastics.

 

Fourteen-year-old Joey is also an aspiring gold medalist and desperately wants to win at this summer’s regional championship. Her hopes and dreams are at the heart of Gold Medal Summer by Donna Freitas. Joey loves gymnastics, but loses some of her focus when events in her life spiral out of control. She gets her first kiss from a very cute boy, her best friend threatens to quit gymnastics, and her parents aren’t supportive. Drawing on her experience as a competitive gymnast, Freitas delivers both a terrific gymnastics story and a classic novel about bending the rules and vaulting to success.

Maureen

categories:

 
 

Just Yuck!

Just Yuck!

posted by:
July 25, 2012 - 8:03am

Yuck's Amazing Underpants and Yuck's Scary SpiderYuck's Slime Monster and Yuck's Gross PartyIn Yuck’s Amazing Underpants and Yuck’s Scary Spider, by Matt and Dave, Yuck is a boy determined to harass his sister, Polly Princess. In the first story of the two-title collection, he has cleverly cultivated the mold and germs that are growing in his underpants by wearing them every day for 6 weeks without washing them. When his amazing underpants come to life, he trains them to mess up the house after Polly Princess cleans. The entire story is filled with gross details of his madcap adventure to aggravate his sister.

 

The second story has Yuck adopting a friendly, hairy arachnid who is promptly caught by the school principal. Yuck hatches a plan that involves training spiders to crawl into his sister’s mouth while she is sleeping. He does this in order to sneak them into school to help rescue his new pet, while incriminating his sister in the process. With characters named Tom Butts and Fartin’ Martin, this is not a read-aloud but rather one to give to young readers who enjoy lowbrow humor. Resist the temptation to ask why they are giggling uncontrollably.

 

Yuck has been popular in the UK for a few years, and is just now being published in the United States. Perfect for fans of the Captain Underpants series, it will leave your young reader in stitches. Be sure to also check out Yuck’s Slime Monster and Yuck’s Gross Party.

Diane

categories:

 
 

Hit the Sand with Traction Man

Traction Man and the Beach OdysseyBritish author/illustrator Mini Grey’s beloved superhero action figure and his pet, Scrubbing Brush, are back in the all new summer adventure Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey. A trip to the shore brings new exploration possibilities, new friends, and a new nemesis, Grandma’s overly friendly dog, Truffles.

 

Traction Man’s landscape is populated by an assortment of googly-eyed sea creatures like anemones and whelks, as well as similarly anthropomorphized picnic foods like sandwich halves and a slice of quiche. Reminiscent of Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear, Traction Man’s heroic feats take place in the world of his owner, an unnamed young boy. Grey’s humorous illustrations are full of witty details, making this a book that demands multiple reads. The accompanying words tell only part of the larger story.

 

When Traction Man and Scrubbing Brush are swept down the beach by an errant wave, they find themselves at the sandcastle of Beach Time Brenda and her fashion doll friends. How will Traction Man ever escape the embarrassment of being subjected to a seaweed beard, shell hat, and worst of all, a floral sarong? Help arrives in an unlikely manner, and new alliances are formed. Like the previous titles, Traction Man is Here! and Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog, this new picture book is a paean to the power of old-fashioned imaginative play.

Paula G.