Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bad Kitty Meets the Baby

Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty books just keep getting funnier. His latest is a howl and is sure to go over big with the elementary school crowd. Bad Kitty has been through a lot in this series. She's suffered through a bath, her birthday, and living with Puppy. In the last book, she endured the care of Uncle Murray, the pet sitter. But nothing, I repeat, nothing has prepared her for the arrival of Baby. When Bad Kitty's owners bring home their newly adopted daughter and plunk her down beside the terrified feline, Bad Kitty can't fathom what this strange creature might be. She ultimately decides the drooling, smelly, noisy creature must be a dog.

The neighborhood cats disagree. They're convinced Baby is actually a cat and hold the Pussycat Olympics to celebrate her arrival. The cats compete in the STARE-AT-YOURSELF-IN-A-MIRROR-UNTIL-YOU-GET-BORED competition, the BABBLING-ON-AND-ON-WITHOUT-STOPPING event, the WHO-CAN-CREATE-THE-BIGGEST-STINK event, and THE-EATING-CONTEST. Baby is the undisputed champion in all four, causing Bad Kitty to have a fit of epic proportions. What will it take for Bad Kitty to accept her new nemesis?

Bruel's maniacal black-and-white illustrations go hand-in-hand with the text's wackiness, adding extra bits of fun to compliment the story. Uncle Murray's Fun Facts return and readers (including this one) will learn why cats are experts at climbing trees but not getting back down , as well as some hints on how to teach a cat tricks. Good luck with that one. The only trick my two cats have learned is to come at the sound of a cat food can popping open.

Bad Kitty Meets the Baby is the best in the series, in my humble opinion. Can't wait to see what Bad Kitty's next adventure will be.

Bad Kitty Meets the Baby
by Nick Bruel
Roaring Brook Press, 144 pages
Published: June 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Quote of the Week

"Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

~ G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cinderella Smith

Cinderella Smith didn't get her nickname because she has a wicked stepmother (hers  is "just a regular kind of mom who is usually nice but kind of strict.") or because she has mean stepsisters (Tess, her younger sister, is a sweetheart) or because she sleeps next to an ashy fireplace or because she has tons of chores to do. No, Cinderella earned her name because she's always losing shoes. In the course of the story, she misplaces half-a-dozen. Most find their way back to her, except for the one she needs most of all--her brand-new ruby red tap shoe. Without it, she won't be able to dance the coveted lead part of Pumpkin Blossom Fairy in the Autumn Recital.

Luckily, this Cinderella, unlike her fairy-tale namesake, has plenty of pluck, and doesn't require a fairy godmother to solve her problems. Instead she teams up with the new girl in school, Erin, who has her own worries. Her mother is remarrying and she's getting two stepsisters. Will they be mean or nice? Cinderella is all set to help her new friend find out.

First-time author Stephanie Barden successfully juggles both plot lines, putting her young heroine into one scrape after another. Diane Goode's wriggly line drawings capture Cinderella's bouncy, exuberant personality to a tee. A second book, Cinderella Smith and the More the Merrier, will come out next year. Yippee!

Cinderella Smith
by Stephanie Barden
illustrations by Diane Goode
HarperCollins, 160 pages
Published: 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

Quote of the Week

"The only end of writing is to enable readers better to enjoy life or better to endure it."

~ Samuel Johnson

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hush, Baby, Hush!

With a certain other lullaby book all the rage, I thought I'd review one that doesn't require four-letter-words to make baby fall asleep. Hush, Baby, Hush gathers lullabies from all over the world, from Greenland to Turkey to Japan to you name it. After all, wherever there are crying, fussing babies, there are sure to be songs to soothe them.

So many lullabies fill up this book, it's tempting to quote them all. But I'll content myself with sharing my favorites. One from the USA brought back fond memories. My mother sang "All the Pretty Little Horses" to me and my sibs when we were young. Now Mom isn't the greatest singer (sorry, Ma), but for some magical reason that doesn't matter to little ones. The sound of a loved one's voice is reassurance itself.

Another favorite gets right to the point. "Go to Bed Tom" from the UK goes like this:

Go to bed Tom.
Go to bed Tom.
Tired or not, Tom,
Go to bed, Tom!

Kathy Henderson, the author and compiler, shows us the lullabies in their original language along with the English translation. It's instructive to compare the two versions and see how alliteration, repetition, and rhythm are reflected in both. Here's "Sugar, Bread and Butter" from India:

Neeni baba neeni,
Muchan, roti, cheeni,
Muchan, roti hoghia,
Mayrah baba soghia.

You don't need to know Hindi to be soothed by the gentle rhythm of this simple song.

A few lullabies, however, are more likely to keep a child awake than lull him or her to sleep. "Stir, Stir the Chocolate!" from Mexico is as rousing as the caffeine contained in its chocolate. Here is the English version:

Stir, stir the chocolate!
Your nose is like a peanut.
One, two, three, CHO!
One, two, three, CO!
One, two, three, LA!
One, two, three, TE!
Chocolate, chocolate!
Stir, stir the chocolate!
Stir, stir, stir,
Stir, stir the CHOCOLATE!

Try going to sleep after a few rounds of that! The majority of the songs, though, are true lullabies. A lovely lullaby from Spain begins:

Go to sleep my baby,
Go to sleep sunshine,
Go to sleep you piece of this heart of mine.

The illustrations by Pam Smy are true to each song's origins. "Hush Baby Hush," a feisty lullaby from the island of Jamaica, is portrayed in vivid colors that jump off the page, while the soulful "Sleep, Baby, Sleep" from Hungary is rendered in soft shades of blue and pink. As you thumb through the pages, each spread is a surprise, while the art as a whole remains cohesive in style.

"Hush Baby Hush" from Jamaica

"Sleep, Baby, Sleep" from Hungary
With the more than two dozen lullabies that make up this collection, it would be almost impossible not to find one that will send a small child off to slumberland. But if not, there's always that other bestselling lullaby book. Here's hoping you won't ever need it!

Hush, Baby, Hush! Lullabies From Around the World
by Kathy Henderson
illustrations by Pam Smy
Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 40 pages
Pub Date: July 1, 2011

Copy provided by publisher

Friday, June 10, 2011

Quote of the Week

"It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up themselves like grass."

~ Eudora Welty

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Marty McGuire

Marty McGuire is my kind of gal. She'd rather be ankle deep in mud than playing dress-up with the other three-grade girls. So when she's chosen to be the princess in the class production of The Frog Prince, she flat out refuses. Not that it does her much good. Between her teacher and her mother, she's pressured into accepting the part. When an actor coach teaches the class about improvisation, Marty decides to do a little improvising on her own. Let's just say she recasts the role of the frog and leave it at that.

The school play isn't the only predicament Marty faces. Third grade hasn't started out all that well. She has a nemesis, Veronica Grace Smithers, a princessy-type of girl who's stolen Marty's best friend away. Or at least that's how Marty sees it. By the book's end, this subplot concludes in a believable and satisfying way.

Kate Messner (The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z) has created a spunky, likeable character in Marty. As Marty's teacher reminds her, she's "...somebody with a lot of talent and confidence. Somebody with a strong voice and lots of energy. Somebody brave and smart who can think on her feet." Marty follows in the rambunctious footsteps of Ramona and Clementine. Readers of early chapter books will be delighted to meet her acquaintance.

Marty McGuire
by Kate Messner
illustrations by Brian Floca
Scholastic, 144 pages
Published: May 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How Sweet It Is!

Sarah Ducharme of Try Curiosity has given The Cath in the Hat a "Sweet Blog" award. 
Woo-hoo! Thank you, Sarah!

Here's how the award works:
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 15 deserving blog buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them.

 So here goes...

 Seven random facts:

1. A committed pugophile, I love all things pug, most of all Pablo, my male fawn pug.
2. Halloween is my favorite holiday and orange my favorite color.
3. I am addicted to coffee and the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle. 
4. I didn't learn to drive until I was in my thirties.
5. I've never met a roller coaster I didn't want to ride.
6. I have no ankles. None.
7. I'm getting married in September to a wonderful man who doesn't mind my ankleless condition.

Fifteen fabulous blogs:

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Call for a New Alphabet

Spelling has never been my strong point. So I sympathize with beginning readers learning the rules for the first time. Silent letters, the ways that plurals are formed, i before e except after c, the list goes on and on. Luckily, Jef Czekaj has written and illustrated a fun primer to help make learning the rules behind the alphabet fun.

The letter X gets the ball rolling. "It was an average day in Alphabet City. S was soaking up some sun, bearded B was bouncing a ball, R was rolling-skating, and there was P in the pool. Every letter was happy and content. Every letter, that is, except for X." The malcontent letter is tired of being among the final three of the alphabet.  He's tired of rules. He demand a new order of the alphabet and raises enough of a stink that the other letters agree to a vote the following day.

After a night beset with disturbing dreams about the downside the other letters face (Y never knowing if it's a consonant or vowel, the stress of overworked E, and the pitfalls of pronunciations that vary), X wisely decides that the alphabet order is fine as is.

Czekaj (author of Hip & Hop, Don't Stop among many others) draws the personified letters of Alphabet City in his usual wacky style with lots of clever details. The P in the pool wears a pirate hat, I holds an ice cream cone, G is drawn as a ghost, and so on. Kids are sure to appreciate the antic, fast-moving pace of this graphic storybook. And they might even learn a spelling rule or two, helpful for whenever their online Spell Checker fails them.

A Call for a New Alphabet
by Jef Czekaj
Charlesbridge, 48 pages
Published: 2011

Today's Nonfiction Round-up is at Practically Paradise.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Little Red Pen

When I was a kid the story of The Little Red Hen didn't appeal to me all that much. I mean, why couldn't the chicken just make the bread by herself? Why drag in Pig, Duck and Cat? Then I became a mom. Suddenly the story resonated.

The Little Red Pen takes a fresh look at this well-known nursery tale, substituting a ballpoint pen for the put-upon hen and office supplies for the barnyard animals.  Little Red Pen is faced with a pile of papers to grade, and when she asks for a little help, she finds Stapler, Scissors, Pencil, Eraser, Pushpin, and Highlighter hiding in the desk drawer. Unlike the barnyard animals, the Desktop Brigade has a reason for not helping. They fear wearing themselves out and being tossed into "The Pit of No Return," otherwise known as the trash.

Little Red Pen bravely carries on by herself, marking papers long into the night until, too tired to continue, she rolls off the desk and falls into the pit. When the others learn of her fate, they band together and do their best to rescue their friend. With the help of several more desk mates, Paper Clip Box, Ruler, and Yardstick, as well as the class hamster, Tank, the gang pulls Little Red Pen (and some others who have fallen in during the rescue attempt) out of the trash and back onto the desk. Then they finish up grading and organizing the papers, no longer afraid of hard work.

The illustrations are the best part of this picture book, with the desktop scenes just bursting with action. Each office supply has its own personality. Little Red Pen is brisk and no-nonsense with her horn-rimmed glasses. Pushpin is a sassy Latina named Senorita Chincheta, while  Eraser is constantly forgetting things as his rubber head shrinks. Even each character's typeface is unique. And the book's message--that we must work together to survive--isn't hammered home, but conveyed in a humorous, light-hearted way. Children are sure to enjoy this rollicking tale. But why should they have all the fun? Read it yourself; it's bound to resonate with anyone who's ever faced a mountain of paperwork.

The Little Red Pen
by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
illustrated by Janet Stevens
Harcourt Children's Books 56 pages
Published: April 2011