Thursday, June 28, 2012

Duck for a Day

Waddle as fast as you can to your library or bookstore and pick up a copy of Duck for a Day, an engaging early chapter book. McKinlay, an Australian writer, covers well-trod ground--a girl wants to bring home the class pet--but she does so with great finesse and with a delightful twist--the class pet is a duck.

Abby isn't allowed to have pets--they're messy and her mom is a bit of a neat freak. Last year, however, she brought home the class rabbit and this year her mom grudgingly will let her take home Max, the duck Abby's teacher surprises the class with one day. But not just anyone gets Max as a houseguest, only those who can provide the perfect aquatic environment. As Mrs. Melvino, their teacher, says more than once, "A duck is different. A duck has demands." Meeting these demands proves almost impossible for Abby and her classmates. Add to Abby's challenges, Noah, her next door neighbor and chief rival, and you have the perfect ingredients for an engrossing read.

The book is expertly plotted and the characters well-drawn and endearing. When obstacles are put in her path, Abby doesn't whinge or whine, she sets out to overcome them. Noah, in his quest to get the duck, comes into his own, changing from a shy, withdrawn boy to a self-confident one. And Mrs. Melvino is a hoot, a teacher who puts so many roadblocks in the class quest to win Max that careful readers will begin to wonder if she has ulterior motives. Leila Rudge's cartoonish illustrations enhance the text and add many comic touches. A delightful book!

Duck for a Day
by Meg McKinlay
illustrations by Leila Rudge
Candlewick Press, 96 pages
Published: February 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Time for Kids: Big Book of What?

Toot! Toot! That's me tooting my horn. For the past year I've been researching and writing the 192-page Big Book of What? for the folks at Time for Kids. It came out this month and is available at Amazon as well as local bookstores.

The book, number three in a series, is divided into 12 chapters and covers a wide range of topics, including Animals, Space, Holidays and Festivals, Inventions, and Sports. It answers questions such as:

What is Skara Brae?
What is zorbing?
What is an orrery?
What is the body's strongest muscle?
What are some foods invented by accident?

Also included are activities and experiments designed and tested by yours truly. Kids can Make a Boomerang, Create a Solar Eclipse, Make Smoothie Pops, Make a Mancala Board, and more.

I had a lot of fun working on this book and hope kids will enjoy reading it. So far, it's garnered a five-star review on Amazon. A parent writes:

The true test of a book at our house is how my children receive it. My oldest son, 7, took the book around with him every where for a good week reading aloud from its pages. We learned about holidays in different countries, what an adam's apple is, and customs around the world. Then I found him making paper boomerangs from instructions within and eventually he even cooked up some pudding pops all on his own.. The Big Book of What kept him highly entertained with full page photos and how-to's. I would recommend it for children ages 6-12 and give it a full five stars for making a reluctant reader one happy camper!

Reviews like that make this writer a happy camper!

Time for Kids: Big Book of What?
by Catherine Nichols
Time Home Entertainment, 192 pages
Published: June 2012

Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week at Capstone Connect.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bink and Gollie: Two for One

DiCamillo and McGhee hit another one out of the ballpark with the return of Bink and Gollie, two irrepressible best friends. In this sequel the dynamic duo go to the state fair and have a series of adventures. Bink, determined to whack a duck and win a giant-size donut, has more success whacking the ticket vendor. Then Gollie gets a major case of stage fright while performing at the amateur talent show. The last story finds the girls consulting a seer about the future of their friendship. Don't worry, it's all good news. In fact, while gazing into my own crystal ball, I see a long string of books featuring these quirky protagonists.

Bink & Gollie: two for One
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
illustrations by Tony Fucile
Candlewick Press
Publication: June, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

Here Come the Girl Scouts!

I was never a girl scout. I think it had to do with the uniforms. I  had to wear a blue and white number to my Catholic elementary school and one uniform in my life was enough, thank you. That said, if Here Comes the Girl Scouts were around back then, I might have been tempted to sign up. Shana Corey does a great job showing the appeal of girls banding together to enjoy nature and friendship in this biography of its founder, Juliette Gordon Low.

Low, or Daisy as she's called throughout this picture book, was a girl with gumption who became a woman of even more gumption. She was in her early fifties when she started a group for girls based on the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides in England. Not one to waste time, Daisy travels the country raising money for her brainchild and spreading her belief that girls could do anything. The book, liberally sprinkled with sayings from the Girl Scout handbook, concludes with an author's note that goes into greater detail about the facts covered in the text. The mixed-media illustrations convey the can-do spirit behind the Girl Scouts. We see Daisy in action as she rides an elephant, fishes off a pier while in dinner party attire, and flies in a monoplane. Later on she goes hiking and camping with her scouts with the same energy and enthusiasm.

The Girl Scouts celebrated their 100th anniversary in March of this year. This book will help kids understand why the occasion is so momentous.

Here Come the Girl Scouts!
by Shana Corey
illustrations by Hadley Hooper
Scholastic Press, 40 pages
Published: 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summertime and the Reading Is Easy

School's over in my nabe and summer stretches ahead, filled with promise. Vacation, pool parties, camp, catching fireflies at night, the plans are endless. For beginning readers, though, it's important not to put reading on the back burner. Skills hard won over the school year can erode as the months go by.

Summer reading should never be a chore. Take kids to the library and let them stock up on books they enjoy. Used book stores are another place to get good deals on inexpensive paperbacks, as are yard sales that sprout as quickly as dandelions.

Here are some books for beginning readers that capture the essence of summer. Let the good times begin!


Summer Days and Nights
by Wong Herbert Yee
Henry Holt, 2012
32 pages

A little girl explores summer as she catches a butterfly, goes on a picnic, and hears an owl in this quiet picture book.

by John Rocco
Hyperion, 2011
40 pages

When the power goes off one hot summer night a family reconnects as they discover all the fun that can be had without electricity.

Tar Beach
by Faith Ringgold
Dragonfly Books, 1996
32 pages

It's 1939, long before air conditioning, and on summer nights Cassie and her family go up on the roof of their apartment building to cool off. While on the roof Cassie imagines herself flying above the city and seeing the George Washington Bridge that her father helped build. Spellbinding artwork.


Frog and Friends: The Best Summer Ever
by Eve Bunting, illustrations by Josee Masse
Sleeping Bear Press, 2012
40 pages

Frog and his friends are back with a trio of stories about summer. Readers who have read all the books in Lobel's Frog and Toad series will feel right at home.

Cork and Fuzz: The Swimming Lesson
by Dori Chaconas, illustrations by Lisa Mccue
Viking, 2011
32 pages

Cork, a muskrat, tries to teach Fuzz, a possum, how to swim with humorous results.

Sam and the Firefly
by P.D. Eastman
Random House, 1958
72 pages

An oldie but still a goodie. Sam, a hoot owl, and Gus, a firefly, get in and out of trouble in this classic easy reader.


Starring Grace
by Mary Hoffman, illustrations by Caroline Binch
Puffin, 2001
96 pages

School's out and Grace's backyard turns into a circus, an emergency room, and a rocket launch pad as Grace and her friends let their imaginations take off.

Julian's Glorious Summer
by Ann Cameron
Perfection Learning, 1987

When Julian's friend, Gloria, gets a new bike, Julian fibs rather than tell her he's afraid of bikes. That fib snowballs and his summer turns out very different than what he expected.


A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play
by Marilyn Singer, illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Clarion Books, 2012
40 pages

Joyful poems and stunning artwork capture kids playing outdoors in summer.

Poem Runs: Baseball Poems
by Douglas Florian
Harcourt, 2012
32 pages

Poems featuring America's favorite sport for kids six and up.

Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems
by Kristine O'Connell George, illustrations by Kate Kiesler
Clarion Books, 2001
48 pages

Eighteen poems about the fun of camping.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Great Cake Mystery

People who know me well know I love mysteries. I started at age 10 with the Nancy Drew series and never looked back. Today children can get hooked on detective stories at an even earlier age. Precious Ramotswe, a private eye living in Botswana, stars in a number of adult mysteries written by the prolific Alexander McCall Smith. Now young readers have the chance to meet Precious as Smith recounts how she solved her first case while still a schoolgirl. Smith has an easy, conversational style. He begins, "Have you ever said to yourself, Wouldn't it be nice to be a detective?" Readers feel themselves in the hands of a natural storyteller and immediately relax.

The mystery Precious solves is appropriately scaled for young readers. A thief is stealing delicious baked goods from students in school. When a boy is accused on circumstantial evidence, Precious comes to his rescue. And when the true suspect is revealed, like in every good mystery, readers will experience both surprise at not spotting the culprit sooner and a sense of inevitability.

Set in Botswana, the book immerses readers in a world much different from the world they know. Smith begins the book with Precious's father relating a tale of how he saved his village from a hungry lion by keeping his wits about him. Readers will relate, though, to Precious and her classmates, who behave as children do the world over.

The book is illustrated in striking woodcuts. Ian McIntosh limits himself to a palette of red, black, and gray, yet manages to produce  bold artwork that give the story a timeless feel. Altogether, this book serves as a fine introduction to the mystery genre.

The Great Cake Mystery
by Alexander McCall Smith
illustrations by Iain McIntosh
Anchor Books, 80 pages
Published: April 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan

Fans of Lunch Lady and Babymouse will enjoy the capers of the flying beaver siblings, Ace and Bub. In this start to the graphic novel series the duo join forces to thwart the plans of a group of penguins intent on turning Beaver Island into an icy wonderland. The wacky humor begins on the first page and continues to the last with sure-fire gaffaws along the way.

Although they look identical, the brothers have way different energy levels. Ace is a dynamo in constant motion while Bub prefers to catch a snooze whenever the opportunity arises (and sometimes when it doesn't). It's  Ace then who spots a bizarre underwater contraption while practicing for the island's annual surfing competition. He and Bub investigate and learn that the invention (which resembles a giant refrigerator) will deep freeze the island and turn it into a penguin paradise. Our heroes are determined not to let that happen and how they succeed is hilariously portrayed in a series of wordless panels that culminate in the pair saving their island home and winning the surfing competition. Not bad for a day's work.  

 The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan
by Maxwell Eaton III
Alfred A. Knopf, 96 pages
Published: January 2012