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Oct/Nov 2006 Book Reviews

Semi-Annual Look at New Picture Books: Lizards and Lions and Castles--Oh My!

Review by Colleen Mondor


Buy now from Amazon!A crazy amount of wonderful picture books has come my way in the last six months, all of them guaranteed to be both different from the latest celebrity-authored blandness and enormously pleasing to the younger set. (I also try to find titles that will not suck the life out of adult readers.) I've got a bit of everything this issue, from conventional story books to nonfiction and poetry. Pull up a chair and get comfortable. There's a lot of great writing and illustrating to share.

I adored Calef Brown's earlier title Polkabats and Octopus Slacks so was quite pleased to find Flamingos on the Roof. Brown excels at what you might consider "nonsense poems"--the types of stories that seem to exist only to amuse the reader and nothing more. (Could there be a higher purpose for children's poetry?) The rhymes are dead-on perfect and make his books a first-rate choice for reading out loud. Consider this excerpt from "Weatherbee's Diner"

"Whenever you're looking for something to eat,
Weatherbee's Diner is just down the street.
Start off your meal with a bottle of rain.
Fog on the glass is imported from Maine.
The thunder is wonderful, order it loud
with sun-dried tornado on top of a cloud."

Every poem is accompanied by Brown's brightly colored illustrations and he draws everything, from bugs and animals to fruits and vegetables, with the same delightful looks on their faces as they express the words he so artfully creates. There's a lot to enjoy in Flamingos and for poetry fans with a solid sense of humor (regardless of age) this collection is a true winner.

J. Patrick Lewis can also have a very funny way of writing his poems. In one of his recent titles, Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses, Lewis and illustrator Simon Bartram have put together a series based entirely on dead people. Consider the poor beheaded-by-paper-airplane "Schoolteacher":

"Knives can harm you, heaven forbid!
Axes may disarm you, kid.
Guillotines are painful, but...
There's nothing like a paper cut."

In some cases Lewis's contribution is only an artfully crafted word or two which accompany Bartram's pitch perfect illustration. For the wrapped picture of a coffin, Lewis considers the "Mailman" as simply, "Return to Sender." For the crew crying over the picture of a deceased "Underwear Salesman" the words are simply, "Our grief--Was brief." (Go ahead and laugh, you know you want to!)

Tomb is the perfect way to get poetry into the hands of the snarky gross-out set who think they have seen it all and now require copious amounts of television for amusement. You will tell them you have a book of poetry for them to read and you will get a look of panicked boredom in return. But from the first lines of "Dairy Farmer" (poor Larry LeGow, "who sat in the shade of his Hereford cow") even the most critical complainer will not be able to resist the lure of Lewis and Bartram's collaboration. Clearly these gentlemen know their audience and aren't afraid to use their talent in order to engage them.

Lewis shifts gears in a major way for another title he has out this fall, Castles: Old Stone Poems. In this collection he works with fellow poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich and illustrator Dan Burr to craft historical poems around some of the most famous castles in the world. The writing is far denser here and makes the book perfect for older, castle-curious children. Consider this excerpt from "Bodiam Castle":

"Mysterious Bodiam Castle,
Floating upon a pond,
Is round and square, famed in the fair
East Sussex and beyond.

Medieval, cries the courtyard,
Medieval, the towers and moat,
Where knights advanced with lances
And the villains were cutthroat."

Burr's illustrations are the real stunners in this book--they cover the pages from corner to corner and the poems are often placed in various scrolls and shields over the larger pictures. At the end of the book is an excellent timeline and glossary that provides "intriguing facts about the castles" and will build on the curiosity spurred by the poems.

The Man in the Moon-Fixer's Mask is a very understated collection by JonArno Lawson and illustrated in black and white by Sherwin Tjia. Lawson has an evident sense of humor in his poems such as in "The Frog Knows His Prognosis":

"The frog meets a heron
Alone in the wood,
the frog knows his prognosis
is not very good.
If he could leap clear
then he certainly would."

But along with the silliness of "The Sock-Seeker" and "Still a Gorilla" there are more thoughtful pieces, like the musings of the walker "On Harbord Street" and the engaged couple in "She Took Two Rings." A personal favorite for me was "Taking in the Caucasus" which manages to include every language travelers would need to know if they visited the region "between the Caspian and the Black Sea." (What other children's poem do you know that would include the verse "You may need to know Abkhaz, Abaza or Akhwakh/ Avar and Andi or Augle and Archi/ Or maybe Armenian and Azerbaijani/ Balkar, Bezhita (sometimes known as Kapuchi)"?)

All in all it's an excellent source for smart readers who have moved far past Seuss but still enjoy the inventive and unique when it comes to wordplay.

My last poetry collection is from Charlotte Pomerantz with pictures by Rob Shepperson. Thunderboom: Poems for Everyone, is a more traditional collection (in the best sense of the word) with delightful color pictures of children, animals and rather silly adults. Pomerantz's poems reminded me of the sort of books I read when I was young--they weren't falling all over themselves to be clever on the one hand or not so subtly trying to convey a "very important message" on the other. Rather, the poems in this collection are one after another the sort of word games that will amuse all kinds of young readers. I have no idea, for example, who Anna Livia Oysterface is, but I heartily enjoyed reading about her preparations for a day out on the town:

"I scrub my back
and forth and back
with perfumed mud and oils.

I loosen my hair
and down it falls
in softly winding coils.

I redden my lips
darken my eyes
and, seated upon my pillow,
I weave a garland of meadow grass
with fallen leaves
of willow.

I fashion a necklace
of pebbles and cobbles
with stones like the eyes of a cat.
I put on my gown,
odd clodhopper shoes,
and a pointy sugarloaf hat.

From my son, the postman,
I borrow a sack
and fill it with gifts for all.
Then shifting it back and forth
on my back,
I step out queenly and tall."

Shepperson's accompanying illustration supremely does the poem justice and little readers will get quite the kick out of Ms. Oysterface departing her garden surrounded by butterflies and carrying her postman's sack.

The "Three Queens of the Orient" are here in Thunderboom as well as Anna, the wife from "For Humpy My Dumpy," who is married to a fellow with a habit of falling off high walls. There are several sweet animal poems, from "The Courtship of Mole and Vole" to a dear kangaroo mother and "The Know-It-All Cat." I found witches, snowmen and bears who like pears in Thunderboom and all of them were enchanting. For an all-round, sure to please collection, this is the one to reach for. There is certainly something for everyone here and it's the best sort of gift for a new reader.

Switching gears a bit, there have been quite a few story books I've enjoyed recently for their inventive ways of sending messages to young readers about the power of wit and originality. Artist Robert Neubecker has crafted a lovely tale about a young boy brave enough to go looking around the world for a place that is more than just the color blue, like his hometown. With huge bold drawings that cover the pages in great deep rich color, The Courage of the Blue Boy takes our young hero and his pet calf, Polly (who is also blue) through lands that are yellow, purple, orange, red, pink and green. They finally arrive at a city that is every color and pattern imaginable (with people to match) where Blue exalts in the sight of "scarlet churches, lavender mosques and beautiful polka-dot temples." (Are you getting the message yet?) Unfortunately, there is nothing and no one blue. At first, terrified to be unique, the blue boy hides. But he finds the courage to introduce this new color to the city, and open-minded as they are, the inhabitants quickly embrace it. In the end, the boy begins "to breathe in all the colors of the city, one by one," and ultimately becomes as multi-colored as his new home.

All of this means of course that you need to be who you are and that the world (both globally and on the village scale) is enriched by the differences of as many people as possible. But readers won't be hit over the head by this idea--they are just going to see that all blue (or all red, or all green) truly is a bit boring and mixing every color is the best way to go. It just looks better, for one, and it introduces all sorts of possibilities for more colors and patterns. Why would you want to be all blue when lavender and yellow are possible? Why would any of us want to be the same?

It just takes a little courage, is Neubecker's message, it just takes a little courage to embrace a bit of change and after reading his very engaging story, his new fans will certainly agree.

Rex is the story of a class pet, a lizard, who goes home with a different student every day. The kids are supposed to write in Rex's book what they do with him and if they can't write well then they draw. This very simple idea from author Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrator David Mackintosh has resulted in all sorts of hilarity for one small lizard and the kids who love him. In every instance Rex is depicted as the T-Rex he is named for, and from climbing up an apartment building to wreaking havoc in a flower shop, it is clear that these kids are determined to exaggerate every moment they have together. The pictures are childlike when depicting what the kids have drawn and otherwise appear almost a little cartoon-like (they reminded me of "The Rugrats," but I mean that in a good way.) Mostly Rex is a fun story that will have crossover appeal to boys and girls as all of them will identify with the desire to have a pet like this one (even if it's just for one night.) This is a guaranteed crowd pleaser in my house and one I have returned to again and again.

Love of language is celebrated in Kenya's Word, the story of a young girl who has a little trouble listening in class, which results in some very funny mistakes. For example, when the teacher asks the students to come in the next day "with the word that names your favorite kind of pet," Kenya misinterprets that and brings in her favorite pet--her tarantula, Tula! Of course, Tula gets loose and of course there is some panic and the teacher must remind Kenya to bring in the word--not the object. But she mishears again and a few days later, she brings in her favorite food, ice cream, which melts all over the place and causes a huge mess. The next time she is asked to bring in her favorite describing word--just the word and nothing else--and this sets Kenya off on a mission of discovery through the corners of her house and around her neighborhood. What word describes the best? Of all the words out there, which should she choose?

Ultimately, author Linda Trice sends Kenya out to visit a family friend, an artist, who shows her all the ways in which color can enrich his paintings. He also shows her that when all the colors are mixed together, they make black, which is present in so many of the things and people that Kenya loves best. Kenya tells her class that black is the color of her favorite things and as her classmates shout out things they love which are black ("my new puppy," "shiny party shoes") they all appreciate Kenya's word.

There was a potential here for this book to be too obvious--Kenya is African American and her discovery and appreciation for the description black could have sunk into after school special land. But Pamela Johnson's exuberant, realistic illustrations of Kenya's family, friends and neighborhood make Kenya's Word one of those delightful story books that might be saying something big on one level but is certainly sharing something sweet on another. And frankly, any kid who loves tarantulas, mangoes and jazz is someone I want to see in a picture book. I liked Kenya and peeking into her world was a most enjoyable experience.

The deeply evocative and dreamy pictures in Moon Plane take this story of a boy and an airplane to a whole new level and make it an excellent fantasy about visiting the moon. In gorgeous brush stokes and various hues of grey with occasional soft color, the boy takes an imaginary flight in a plane that he sees overhead while playing outside one day. He takes the plane out into space where he lands on the moon and tries out a spacesuit before deciding to go home where his mother is waiting for him and his bed provides him with another chance to sleep and dream about flying.

Moon Plane is the perfect book for little wannabe aviators and takes its readers on the kind of journey that most of them are already visiting in their childish fantasies as often as possible. The language is spare, allowing the pictures to take center stage and making it an excellent choice for early readers. Mostly it is a celebration of dreams and imagination, and in this specific case, the ultimate 21st century dream. I loved Moon Plane but then again, I don't think we can get enough about space into the minds of children. They are the ones who are going to be out there one day (so writes the unabashed Star Trek fan) and we need to start them on that path as early as we can.

Railroad John and the Red Rock Run is an absolute blast to read out loud. This wild western tale is about Lonesome Bob, who has to be at Red Rock for his two o'clock wedding to Wildcat Annie. Along with Granny Apple Fritter he hops on the Sagebrush Flyer, which has never been late. Things go wrong--of course--but armed with Granny's "Hard-Shell Chili-Pepper Corn-Pone Muffins" they overcome one problem after another. The bridge over Cripplesome Creek is washed out, they get stuck in Sulfur Flats "without a crumb of fuel left" and then an "Idaho spine-twiner" comes over hill! (That's tornado to the rest of us.)

Suffice to say this is a Wild West train version of the old "Perils of Pauline" Saturday serial. Tony Crunk's escapades, coupled with Michael Austin's sepia toned pictures, make it an absolute riot of a read-aloud story. There is no slowing down here, no careful contemplation. The train is roaring, Lonesome Bob is singing his sad songs of worry and everything that can go wrong does. We've got cows flying, people--cows flying! (Total flashback to Twister when the cow showed up--why is that the tornado stereotype that always works?)

There are simply not enough railroad books out there for kids and not enough westerns. The pictures are perfectly styled for the setting and time period and although it was a little hard to swallow "Granny Apple Fritter" in the beginning, my four-year old thought she was great and he's the one who ought to know. I found that when I started reading Railroad John I couldn't help myself--my reading got faster and faster as the story flew by. By the end the train was roaring, I was laughing and the whole thing was an utterly positive, laugh out loud book. Not quite a good choice for going to sleep maybe, but a real crowd pleaser in the afternoon!

With Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind everyone's favorite teacher Miss Malarkey is excited to announce that her class will be participating in the "Everybody Reads America Program." The students are supposed to read 1,000 books by the time summer vacation starts. For some kids this sounds great, but a lot of them are pretty stubborn, and as hard as Miss Malarkey tries to entice them (scary books, fantasy, joke books, poetry and adventure--everything you can imagine) the lure of video games is hard to resist. One by one though, the perfect book is found for each child until only the narrator is left out. The school has reached 999 books and it's the night before the due date when Miss Malarkey tries one more time. She has found the perfect book, she says, because after a full year of trying she now knows exactly what this one little boy likes most of all. That night he goes home with a book about "aliens and race cars and funny jokes and chewing gum and hot sauce and cannonballs. It even had a pool!" It is everything he likes best and he stays up all night to read it. He reads a book from cover to cover--and finally realizes just how great books can be.

Miss Malarkey has made every one of her students into a great reader, even the toughest case of all.

This book is nothing more than a big fat love letter to reading. Miss Malarkey is as cool and wise as she has been in the previous Malarkey titles and the kids fulfill pretty much every classroom type. All readers will find themselves in here, because everyone is here. That's what author Judy Finchler and Kevin O'Malley are trying to accomplish though--they want to show the typical group of kids and then let Miss Malarkey work her magic on all of them. That she finds success not by assigning one book that everyone must read (shades of Little House on the Prairie in the third grade for me) but by zeroing in on each child's interests and matching books to readers (even including joke books!) the authors show that everyone can find a book to love, if only they look hard enough (or have some dedicated help from cool adults.) O'Malley's illustrations depict Miss Malarkey and her boundless enthusiasm perfectly, along with all the kids in her class. All in all, it's a great story book and if you know any bibliophiles who are past the picture book stage, I'm sure they would appreciate its message, regardless of age.

Library Lion is less about books and more about the awesomeness of libraries. It's also about one particular librarian, Miss Merriweather, and how she learns to bend the rules just a little bit in order to make the library a better place.

But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. First, Library Lion is about a lion who one day walks into the library. Because there are no rules about lions being in the library, he ends up staying. It turns out that he enjoys story hour a great deal and even though he has to be reminded not to roar when the hour is over ("If you cannot be quiet you will have to leave," Miss Merriweather reminds him) it is clear that he has a deep love for the library and the children who gather there. Soon enough the lion is a daily presence, making himself useful by dusting the encyclopedias (with his tail), licking envelopes for overdue notices and letting small children ride on his back so they can "reach books on the highest shelves." Every day he waits for story hour and soon no one can imagine what life was like before the lion. But then there is an accident and to save Miss Merriweather the lion breaks the rules and roars as loud as he can. Even though it is for a good cause, he is reminded that he has broken the rules and leaves the library, apparently forever. But sometimes rules need to be bent just a bit when circumstances require it, and a happy ending is here for the lion, Miss Merriweather and everyone at the library. It just takes a little bit to make that ending happen and really, if you can't have a lion in the library, then what can you do?!

Michelle Knudsen has crafted a story with a very old fashioned feel with Library Lion--it reminded me of the books I grew up with and Kevin Hawkes's softly brushed illustrations show very modern characters but still maintain a dreamy, sentimental atmosphere. There is no reason to question why a lion is in the library--he's there because he wants to be. And it is obvious that he belongs and that everyone is happy to have him. The story is all about imagining the impossible and then making it work within the parameters of the possible--something that Knudsen does with a lot of tongue-in-cheek fun. Again, this is a story for book lovers and even more so for librarians. It's a real sweetheart and this particular lion explains perfectly why those statues are out in front of the New York Public Library and why more people should be expecting magic when they go to check out the latest release.

I do love a good ocean story--always have--and Jerry Pallotta's Dory Story is outstanding. Young Danny has always been told that he is too young to go out on the ocean alone, but after staying up one night on the shore and learning about plankton, he is too curious to resist the flat sea the next day. So off he goes in his dory, planning "to row to the big rock in the middle of the bay."

I knew right then that something was going to wrong with this plan, but Pallotta had a lot of story to tell first and the dramatics would have to wait.

As Danny rows out on the bay and encounters first seabirds, then shrimp and other marine life, David Biedrzycki's illustrations really take over. The pictures are so crisp and clean and vibrant that they seem almost to be photographs and as Pallotta's story draws Danny more and more into the life below the waves, Biedrzycki's illustrations complement the ever increasing excitement. From sand eels to bluefish to killer whales, Danny finds himself up close and personal with all manner of aquatic life until, well, until the inevitable happens.

But I'll let you discover what happens by yourself.

Dory Story makes for excellent reading and is a first-class choice for any child with a deep affinity for the sea. While boys and girls will enjoy it, consider this a good pick for reluctant readers especially. They won't be able to resist the escalating excitement and Pallotta's understated text won't seem intimidating. I doubt they will be able to resist Biedrzycki's illustrations either. There is also a wealth of information here that will likely be consumed without the slightest bit of argument from early readers (or young listeners.) It's hard for me to resist a boy in a boat on the sea--throw in a Red Sox baseball cap and I'm a goner. Nicely done.

What attracted me to Stella Brite and the Dark Matter Mystery was the idea of a young girl detective tracking an astronomical mystery. There has been talk for years about girls lagging behind boys when it comes to science (and the U.S. lagging behind the world in the same subject) and I learned precious little when it came to astronomy when I was in school. The idea that author Sara Latta would take her young Stella (along with little brother Max) and cut them loose on a search for dark matter in a story designed for early readers just sounded too good to be true. I didn't know how it would work--or if it would work, but I was certainly curious. Wow! How awesome is this little book! In fact when I was done I made my husband read it, just to see if maybe I was dazzled by latent Nancy Drew dreams. He agreed. It is outstanding--smartly done and yet easy to understand. So, Stella Brite just became the book I want to press on every little girl and boy I know. I think they will love her, and I definitely wish that Latta and illustrator Meredith Johnson will return to this character again soon.

The plot is as simple as it always is in girl detective-land: while planning to track down the mayor's missing dog, young detective Stella Brite is made aware of a recent news article about the mystery of dark matter in the universe. She resolves to take the case and, along with Max, heads off to the library so they can get a better understanding of their subject. (They go to the library and look up science books--can you stand how great this is?!) In short order, the kids are talking to the local astronomy club and tracking the mysterious Professor Bella Black. Along the way, everyone they meet gives them clues about how the universe works and what function dark matter serves. Ultimately they find themselves in a secret lab underground, where the case doesn't exactly end up closed, but it does get a lot clearer.

It would be easy to dismiss the whole idea of this book as hokey or woefully optimistic--how could a book for such a young age group, on a dense subject like this, possibly succeed? But Johnson's thoroughly likeable color pictures and Latta's very well thought out text keep things buzzing right along. Stella and Max treat this as a mystery that is no different from a lost dog and because of that, the reader will end up thinking the same way. Why does something like dark matter have to be so complicated anyway? Why can't it be explained in a simple, direct and enjoyable manner?

Why do we all have to feel so intimidated by this stuff?

So here's the deal--I'm 37 years old, I own a telescope and I love the idea of astronomy. But until I read Stella Brite and the Dark Matter Mystery I had no idea, at all, why dark matter was or why I should even care about it. It's very easy for me to recommend this title because it really impressed the heck out of me. Latta has really found her calling with this character and plot. She should write a whole series as far as I'm concerned; I know I would be up front buying each one. My son is going to love Stella in a year or two, and I'm going to love introducing them.

Cat Urbigkit has crafted a strictly nonfiction book around her son Cass and his life as a young shepherd on the family farm, Paradise Sheep Company. Heavily illustrated with crisp clean photographs, A Young Shepherd is an intimate look at life for twelve-year old Cass in Wyoming. Suburban (and urban) readers will love the opportunity to read about Cass's exploits, what he has to do to take care of his orphaned lambs and his yearlong commitment to keeping them safe. In the end he shows them at the local fair, and does quite well, and a year later the lambs are old enough to be sheared. The cycle begins again when Cass and his parents introduce a ram to his young flock and new lambs are born, expanding they young man's flock.

Urbigkit is telling a very simple and straightforward story about her son in Shepherd but it's a fascinating tale for most young readers and one they would have little or no opportunity to hear without books like this. She leads readers through the seasons, showing the responsibility that Cass must exhibit in order to keep his flock safe. The lambs are beyond cute (no big surprise) but this isn't a cutsey book--it's a significant and smartly written examination of family farming from a young perspective. Because Cass is the focus of the story, readers will not think they are being written down to--this is a book about a boy, and thus it is ideal for girls and boys to read. At the end Urbigkit includes brief biographies of other young people who tend flocks of sheep. Altogether, she makes a very engaging story that will both answer questions for some young readers and prompt more for others. It's an accessible and engaging look at family farming, and beautifully designed.

I'm not always such a fan of wordless titles--they can sometimes be so ambiguous that the reader is left not only with no story, but confusing pictures as well. Barbara Lehman is a very big exception to this rule, however, as her elegantly illustrated tales always have a very clear point. Museum Trip is a perfect example of this style--in fact, to me, it is her best title yet.

Museum Trip is about a group of students on a field trip. From the very beginning it is clear that one young boy, dressed prominently in a bright red coat, is going to be our guide. While the children are led through the exhibits, he falls behind to tie his shoe and quickly becomes lost. While searching through the rooms for his group he happens upon a display case of mazes and in a magical turn of events is transferred from outside the case into the first maze. As a new miniature self, he navigates one maze after another, all them gorgeously drawn in sepia tones that look like antique parchment paper. In the final maze he enters a tower and is awarded a gold medallion on a ribbon placed around his neck. And then he is back in the room, staring at the mazes, and wondering if the adventure was real or imaginary.

But wait--the story is not over yet. After rejoining the group, the boy continues on the tour and leaves the museum, but there is something different about how he is dressed--and something different about the museum guard as well. Magical experiences, it seems, are alive and well in the museum, something that any fan of art or history is already well aware of but young readers will enjoy discovering as they wander through Lehman's beautifully wrought tale.

The big appeal of Lehman's work for a lot of early readers is that they will not have to read--they can craft their own stories based on her pictures and allow their imaginations to run wild. There is plenty to think about in Museum Trip, from the obvious possibility of transformation to the realism portrayed in the mazes and other artwork evident in the pictures. All in all it's the kind of book that children with big imaginations will enjoy the most and those of an artistic bend will adore. This is another one for older as well as younger readers and even art students, who will find a lot to learn here about their craft.

Finally, I have a couple of fun books that enjoy a good time with letters and language. In Alethea Kontis's Alpha Oops! there is a bit of an alphabet revolution. The letter Z decides it has had it with always coming last and insists that the letters each choose a different spot in the rotation. Bob Kolar seems to have had a blast illustrating Kontis' rollicking story as the brightly colored letters (with arms, legs, faces and even the occasional mustache) all make a stand for changing the order as they sit fit. Chaos--well, it's pretty much a given that chaos is going to ensue here and while the conventional ideal of "O is for Owl" and "N is for Night" is played out one letter at a time, there is plenty of other dialogue, from H sounding off that "Just because you all want to be different doesn't mean I do," and X complaining that he doesn't "have much to choose from"--which is really true. B can go on for an hour about "big beautiful balloons blowing briskly in the breeze above a bevy of bright blue bouncing balls" and X has X-ray. Poor X.

Ultimately, all the letters are heard from and the decision is made that perhaps a little order isn't such a bad thing.

Chaos is celebrated in huge way in Carin Berger's very coolly designed little book, All Mixed Up, however. In fact, a certain amount of chaos is critical to this title's success. In a covered spiral binding, Berger's winsome collage illustrations are split in three, with words on the left and a single picture split in three on the right. This means you can have "Beauty Queen Basks Bewitchingly" initially opposite a girl with a crown in a red sequined dress or, by changing a couple of page segments, you have "Beauty Queen Jumps Comically" and now she has a crown, a firecracker body and red sequined shoes.

You can create over 13,000 characters with Berger's book and each will be sillier than the last. I'm a big fan of her collage art and I think this is the perfect conceit for her creations. "Cowboy Piggybacks Gloriously"--is there a better place for Berger to have her gleeful fun? All Mixed Up is just a kick from beginning to end and promises all kinds of enjoyment for word-curious readers. Coupled with Alpha Oops, you have a nice little set of books by two authors who know that the English language was made for fun. Sometimes we get so tied up in teaching and learning and testing that we forget that words (and letters) can be amusing as well. The best way to learn anything is with a smile. Both Kontis and Berger show themselves to be pros on that score. Both of these books are huge hits in my house and not to be passed by. They show in abundant form that reading can be pure pleasure, which is really the only lesson I care to teach.

 

Flamingos on the Roof by Calef Brown
Houghton Mifflin 2006
ISBN 0-618-56298-2

Once Upon a Tomb: A Collection of Gravely Humorous Verses by J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Simon Bartram
Candlewick 2006
ISBN 076361837-3

Castles: Old Stone Poems by J. Patrick Lewis & Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrated by Dan Burr
Wordsong 2006
ISBN 1-59078-380-8
(New 13 ISBN 978-1-59078-380-1)

The Man in the Moon-Fixer's Mask by JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Sherwin Tjia
Wordsong 2006
ISBN 1-932425-82-9
New 13: 9781932425826
Aaron/highlights

Thunderboom! Poems for Everyone by Charlotte Pomerantz
Illustrated by Rob Shepperson
Front Street 2006
ISBN 1-932425-40-3

The Courage of the Blue Boy by Robert Neubecker
Tricycle Press 2006
ISBN 1-58246-182-1

Kenya's Word by Linda Trice
Illustrated by Pamela Johnson
Charlesbridge 2006
ISBN 1-57091-888-0

Moon Plane by Peter McCarty
Henry Holt 2006
ISBN 0-8050-7943-2

Railroad John and the Red Rock Run by Tony Crunk
Illustrated by Michael Austin
Peachtree 2006
ISBN 1-56145-363-3

Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind
By Judy Finchler & Kevin O'Malley
Illustrated by Kevin O'Malley
Walker Books 2006
ISBN0-8027-8084-9

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Candlewick 2006
ISBN076362262-1

Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta
Illustrated by David Biedrzycki
Charlesbridge 2004
ISBN 0-88106-076-3

Stella Brite & the Dark Matter Mystery by Sara Latta
Illustrated by Meredith Johnson
Charlesbridge 2006
ISBN 1-57091-884-8

A Young Shepherd by Cat Urbigkit
Boyds Mills Press 2006
ISBN 1-59078-364-6
13: n/a
Aaron highlights

Museum Trip by Barbara Lehman
Houghton Mifflin 2006
ISBN 0-618-58125-1

Alpha Oops: The Day the Z Went First by Alethea Kontis
Illustrated by Bob Kolar
Candlewick 2006
ISBN 076362728-3

All Mixed Up by Carin Berger
Chronicle Books 2006
ISBN 0-8118-4966-X

 

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