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.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Steal Back the Mona Lisa! by Meghan McCarthy

Copyright © 2006 by Meghan McCarthy

In Paris, France the famous Mona Lisa is stolen from the Louvre.  Meanwhile, across the ocean a young boy named Jack is awakened by what appears to be a radio with wings.  It commands him to “steal back the Mona Lisa!”  A bewildered Jack discovers that the closet, instead of containing his clothes, is full of trench coats, fedoras and brown suits.  This ordinary boy has been transformed into a special agent.  While his parents sleep, he climbs out the window and rappels down the side of his house.  Thus begins Jack’s three step mission: 1. fly across the Atlantic Ocean; 2. seize the Mona Lisa from the thieves and 3. return the painting to its rightful place at the Louvre.
The crooks’ plan is not to sell the painting.  No their intentions are much more devious. They will deface the Mona Lisa by drawing a goofy mustache on her. 
The crooks attempt to thwart Jack but Jack foils them at every turn. When he is being tailed en route to the airport, he uses his special hat to release slippery oil that causes the pursuing car to swerve off the road. When Jack boards the private plane, the pilot is a bad guy and Jack leaps off the plane, using his insta-blimp cord to inflate his jacket and float to the ground.  
Unfortunately, when Jack goes to a restaurant, his beverage is poisoned.  He is kidnapped and tied up.  Left to dangle over the crooks’ boat in shark infested waters, Jack tries all of his gadgets to aide his escape. His insta-blimp cord, laser light and oily hat button all malfunction. 
He then tries his, yet unused, special - agent watch.  A pair of scissors emerge and allow Jack to free himself at last. Jack arrives where the painting is being held, not a moment too soon. One of the thieves has a permanent marker, and his hand is poised to deface the Mona Lisa.  Jack uses his handy special- agent watch again, this time to lasso the culprits.  

Under cover of darkness, a very stealthy Jack travels to France and completes his mission: he returns the Mona Lisa to it’s rightful place!  
“Using secret methods too treacherous to mention,” Jack arrives back home and you assume that it was all a dream, but was it?  Read Steal Back the Mona Lisa! and take a look at Jack and his teddy bear in bed on the last double page spread and decide for yourself.

Steal Back the Mona Lisa! is a comical story of adventure and intrigue. The expressions on the face of the Mona Lisa and the other famous paintings are hilarious.  Depending on the scene, the Mona Lisa looks upset, aghast or relieved. The gadgets in the book are super cool. What kid does not dream of being a spy and possessing gadgets to help them escape danger and to save the day.  The first time I borrowed Steal Back the Mona Lisa! from the library, my son interrupted me halfway through and said, “I don’t ever want to return this book.”   I agreed with him, so I bought it. I hope that McCarthy writes a sequel. We would be thrilled to read another adventure with Special Agent Jack.

Art Dog by Thacher Hurd in which the “Mona Woofa” is stolen, would make a great pairing for a double dose of art adventure at storytime.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Akiak: A Tale From the Iditarod by Robert J. Blake

Text and illustrations copyright © 1997 by Robert J. Blake

 “It is 1,151 miles of wind, snow and rugged trail . . .  from Anchorage to Nome.”  Akiak has competed in the famous Alaskan Iditarod before, but she has never won. She has been a fierce contender, placing in the top 5 on three different occasions.  Due to her age --she is 10 years old-- this is the last chance for Akiak. It is now or never!

Akiak always finds the safest and fastest way on the course and never gets lost: she is a good lead dog. However, on the fourth day, not even half way into the race, Akiak injures her paw.  The Musher --the sled driver-- must drop her off at the next checkpoint. Akiak has other plans; she will not allow herself to be taken away from the race.  She outmaneuvers the handlers who try to place her into a helicopter and races on the trail to find her team which now has a seven hour lead on her.
Initially, even a blizzard does not deter her.  Although the wind has removed her team’s scent and the snow has covered the trail, Akiak still knows the way. Once the blizzard becomes a whiteout, she is finally thwarted, but only temporarily. She burrows herself in the snow to wait for the storm to pass.  In the morning, Akiak is on the move again.

The checkpoints along the way are informed that Akiak is loose.  The trail volunteers attempt, unsuccessfully, to capture her.  Eventually, many people are so impressed by her tenacity, that they begin rooting for Akiak to catch up to her team.  Food is even left out for her to eat.  
Day by day, Akiak shortens the distance between herself and her team. On day 10, the last day of the race, she actually catches them. She rushes to the front to be placed back in the lead spot on the harness.  However, the Iditarod rules do not permit a dropped off dog to be put back on the harness or to run next to the team.  The Musher tells her so, but Akiak begins circling the other dogs, barking and pushing them, then  runs down a hill.  Akiak is trying to alert her team that that they are making a wrong turn. Once Akiak has them back on the right path, she hops into the sled with the Musher as the rules permit and they charge toward the finish line in first place.   The crowd goes wild cheering for Akiak.  “As sure as if she had been in the lead position, Akiak won the Iditarod Race.”

Blake’s illustrations beautifully capture the frigid, snowy conditions and the remoteness of the course. The course map, included in the end papers, was a great bonus. As we read, the kids enjoy flipping back to it in order to track Akiak’s journey. Prior to reading Akiak, I knew almost nothing about the Iditarod.  However, Akiak is such a compelling heroine and the book is so thrilling that the boys and I were eager to learn more. We followed the 2011 Iditarod back in March and will do so again in 2012.

Monday, November 21, 2011

AN OLDY BUT GOODY- Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn

First edition ©1965 Doris Burn
Second Edition © 2005 Doris Burn
Andrew Henry Thatcher is the middle child in a family of 5 kids.  He has a singular talent for building and inventing.  Andrew Henry’s family, however, does not delight in his talent, but rather are quite annoyed by it and verbalize their disapproval. There is the helicopter that he builds in the kitchen, the eagle’s cage in the living room, the merry-go-round powered by his sisters’ sewing machine and the list goes on.

One day Andrew Henry, feeling unvalued, decides to run away.  Toting his tools and some supplies, he travels to a meadow far from town in order to build himself a home. There he will be able to invent as he pleases.  Once he arrives at the meadow, that is exactly what Andrew Henry does. (The completed home appears on the book cover).

Not long after his arrival, a girl named Alice Burdock appears with her pet birds. She too feels that her passion is unappreciated by her family and requests that Andrew build her a home. He obliges and builds a home that is perfect for a bird lover. It is a tree house with all types of cool features:  bird baths, feeding stations, birdhouses etc. 
Another boy, George Turner who loves toy boats, arrives and request a house be built. Andrew Henry first builds a bridge over a creek then builds a home for George on the bridge.  The house has docks for his toy boats, built-in fishing poles and a paddle wheel that operates a fan to keep George cool. 
Joe Polasky, another kid, shows up.  He owns mice, rabbits and a mole. Andrew Henry builds him a subterranean home where the entrance is on the roof. The house has rooms and passageways for his pets to scurry through.
More children arrive from the town and Andrew Henry builds each a custom home that fits the particular child’s interest.  Eventually, a village of nine unique houses stand in the meadow.

Now, no one has seen Andrew Henry depart town except his dog Sam.  After a while, the parents realize that their children are missing and begin to panic. They frantically search for four days and nights, without any success. On the fifth morning, the dog Sam, extremely lonely for Andrew Henry, lets out a long mournful wail. He then guides the townspeople through the woods to Andrew Henry’s Meadow. When the parents and children are reunited they all rejoice because they truly missed each other.

From that day forward Andrew Henry’s family takes a keen interest in his hobby and are always eager for him to demonstrate his newest contraptions.

All of the books featured on my blog are loved and requested frequently.  However, if you were to ask my eldest son to name his top 5 books, he will only list books that involve a boy inventing or creating. Since he was 3 years old, he has remained steadfast in his desire to be a builder/inventor.  Not surprisingly, If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen and Andrew Henry’s Meadow are in his favorite 5. My boys love to examine the detailed pen and ink drawings of the houses and point out their favorite features.  Kudos to San Juan Publishing for resurrecting this formerly out-of-print gem so that another generation of young, imaginative and inquisitive kids can be inspired.

Shocking, the Chicago Public Library does not own a copy of Andrew Henry's Meadow. The next time I visit this week I will see how that can be remedied. I would even be willing to purchase a copy myself and donate it to the library. Yes, it is just that wonderful!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Magnus at the Fire by Jennifer Armstrong illustrations by Owen Smith

Text copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Armstrong
Illustrations copyright © 2005 by Owen Smith

Magnus is one of a trio of gray stallions that pull the heavy steam pumpers. These horses are “strong as oxen and fast as the wind.”  It is hard work but a good life.  The horses do not want for food or shelter, and they are treated kindly.  After ten years on the job for Magnus, progress arrives in the form of a motorized fire engine, rendering the horse drawn engines obsolete. The motorized engines are more cost efficient, so the horses are retired and put up for sale. 
It is not that simple for Magnus, being a fire horse is his life. He is conditioned to spring into action once the fire bell rings.  Initially, after his retirement, Magnus is perplexed by the fact that he is left behind.  Then he begins leaping over the fence surrounding his pasture and running to the fire when he hears the bell clang, even outracing the motorized engine. A taller fence is built, but Magnus simply busts it down. The captain becomes increasingly irate with Magnus who he feels is becoming a nuisance.
One day the engine breaks down on the way to a fire. The firemen and bystanders attempt to push the motorized engine, but it is simply too ponderous.  The fire is burning out of control, and the Captain realizes that only Magnus is powerful enough to haul the engine. Magnus is retrieved from in front of the fire, where he stands, waiting.  Even without the aide of his two partners, Magnus attempts to tow the engine. It is a struggle but with the encouragement of onlookers chanting “Pull Magnus! Pull!”  and the firemen pushing from behind, he is able to successfully haul the engine to the fire. It is to be his final job as a fire horse. Magnus is then sent to live out the rest of his days comfortably in an apple orchard, surrounded and loved by children.
I love to look at art, but to my chagrin, I am a novice when it comes to art critique.  The extent of my analysis is usually limited to the three following responses, “I like it, it’s pretty;” “I don’t like it, it’s not pretty” and “Huh?”  I give Owen Smith’s illustrations my greatest seal of approval -“I like it, it’s pretty!” In  all seriousness, Smith’s stunning oil paintings are so incredibly lovely that even I can come up with more than one response to describe them.  His depictions of the horses are the most majestic I have every seen; my scans simply cannot do them justice.  There are quite a few double page spreads which I can’t even fit on my scanner.  And the end paper. . . . Well, you will simply have to read Armstrong's  great historical story to see for yourself.  Read Magnus at the Fire and I am sure you and your kids will be chanting like mine at every read, “Pull, Magnus! Pull! Pull, Magnus! Pull!”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Art Dog by Thacher Hurd

Copyright ©1996 by Thacher Hurd

Arthur Dog is employed as a guard at the Dogopolis Museum of Art.  The museum houses the works of such painters as, “Vincent Van Dog, Pablo Poodle, Henri Muttisse and Leonardo Dog Vinci.”  
Arthur is  mild-mannered and lives a quiet life, except when the moon is full.  During those nights, Arthur’s appearance and personality change.  Donning a mask and a beret and carrying a box containing paints and brushes, he creeps throughout the city as a graffiti artist.  With a splat of his tail, Arthur signs his murals, “Art Dog.” 

One day, a robbery occurs at the Dogopolis Museum.  The Mona Woofa, a priceless painting, is stolen. When the police arrive, they conduct a search of the outside perimeter.  It is a full moon, and Art Dog is found in the alley with his eyes glowing and fur glistening, paintbrush in paw. Unsurprisingly, he is suspected of committing the robbery and is arrested.
Jail, however, cannot hold the innocent Art Dog; he uses his paint brush to paint an open window where there are bars. He leaps out.

Now free, Art Dog needs transportation. He paints a “Brushmobile” which runs on paint instead of gas.  
Using his keen canine sense of smell, he searches for and locates the real culprits at an abandoned warehouse.  A scuffle occurs, but instead of using a weapon, Art Dog brandishes his paintbrush. “Paint! En garde! Touche!”  When the fighting ceases, the criminals are shown embedded in a piece of art. 
The police arrive, accompanied by the museum director.  The museum director, impressed with Art Dog’s  “Messterpiece”,  offers him a show at the Dogopolis Museum.  On the day of his show, Art Dog paints a masterpiece in the sky titled “City Rhapsody.”  Everyone in attendance is awed, but then suddenly Art Dog is gone leaving everyone, except the reader, wondering, “who was Art Dog?”

Art Dog is such a wonderfully playful story.  As an added bonus, it provides a great opportunity to introduce your kids to several famous artists. I found the true paintings on the internet and we enjoyed comparing them to the Dogopolis Museum’s versions.  As Chicago residents, we have access to the world-renowned Art Institute, and we always read Art Dog before we visit. Of course, it is also requested many times in between.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates by Kevin O’Malley and Patrick O’Brien illustrated by Patrick O’Brien

Text copyright © 2007 by Kevin O’Malley and Patrick O’Brien
Illustrations copyright ©2007 by Patrick O’Brien
In the misty skies above the planet Jurassica, a dark and sinister shape is seen moving among the clouds. Suddenly ….BOOM! A canon roars overhead. Amid the fire and smoke the pirate ship Blackrot descends to the ground. The hatch flies open, and a mob of misshapen mutants and reptilian cyborgs flow like a river out of the ship, screaming and shouting and waving their laser swords.
The mutants from the ship Blackrot raid the imperial palace stealing Jurassica’s Jewels.  They then flee to outerspace.  The helpless President of Jurassica calls for Captain Raptor to come to their aid. Captain Raptor is the “hero of a thousand space missions; champion of truth, justice and dinosaurs in space throughout the galaxy.”  His ship is the Megatooth and his fearless crew is comprised of three other dinosaurs.
The Megatooth blasts off in pursuit. They find the pirate ship adrift in space without power, appearing defenseless; however, it is a trap.  When the Megatooth approaches, the Blackrot fires on it. The Megatooth is struck and barely averts a crash landing on what appears to be an uninhabited barren moon. The crew is unharmed but the same cannot be said for the Megatooth. A critical component is broken and the master engineer is unable to repair it; the crew is marooned.
Captain Raptor discovers a suspicious acting creature named Bart Scalawag spying on them.  Scalawag explains that his ship was hijacked by pirates and they marooned him there too. In exchange for Captain Raptor taking him aboard, Scalawag, who is handy, will repair the Megatooth.
Once Scalawag has the Megatooth functioning, they begin their return to Jurassica. While en route, they encounter Robokron, “the giant robotic space beast.”  It must be defeated first.
The Megatooth finally arrives at Jurassica where it does battle with the Blackrot which has returned for more pillaging. While Captain Raptor and his crew focus on the fight at hand, Scalawag steals the Megatooth’s shuttle craft and flees to the Blackrot. It turns out the sneaky Scalawag was formerly Captain of the Blackrot. Now that he is back at the helm, he seeks to destroy the Megatooth.  The discerning Captain Raptor, however, was always distrustful of Scalawag. Before the battle, Captain Raptor placed a bomb in the shuttle craft. Scalawag has now, unwittingly, carried it back to his pirate ship.  The bomb is detonated, and the Blackrot crashes.  All the pirates, including Scalawag, are captured and sent to prison. Once again, Captain Raptor saves the day!
If your kids love Star Wars, Star Trek and dinosaurs, they will flip over these books as my boys have for the last year. As the spouse of a Trekkie and therefore a Trekkie by association, it seems that Captain Raptor’s voice should resemble the voice of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise. When I read the books to the boys, I imitate him and they think it is pretty cool. Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates is the second book in the series, Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery being first. We own both and will eagerly purchase the third title, which the authors informed me, they are currently working on.

Because my two oldest children are boys, I spend a lot of time searching for “boy books.”  I have always read that boys are more reluctant readers than girls so I want to make sure I do everything in my power to foster a lifelong love of reading. I have made it my mission to search out a variety of titles, such as the Captain Raptor series and the other books on this blog, that really appeal to them.   As a result of my diligence, at 6 and 4, everyday they each still come to me with a stack of books and request that I read. They also spend a lot of time looking at books independently without any prompting. Thanks  O’Malley and O’Brien!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Simon’s Book by Henrik Drescher

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ©1983 by Henrik Drescher

The opening page shows a young boy drawing a story.  Feeling weary, he goes to bed without completing it. Now this would be of no great import, were it not for the fact that the boy leaves his drawing with one of the characters, Simon, being menaced by a monster. Once the boy goes to sleep, the drawing comes to life. Thankfully, two pens and a jar of ink on the table have also come to life and aid Simon in his attempt to escape the monster.
The beast lunges and the pursuit of all four begins. The clever pens draw a hole which they believe is sufficiently large for them to escape, yet not large enough for the beast to follow; they are mistaken, for the beast leaps right through, hot on their trail.  
The four climb up a hill. When they reach the top, the pens form a wheel with Simon holding on in the middle, to hasten their descent.  They land at the foot of the hill with a thud as the wheel spins out of control.
To their horror, they look up to see the beast lunging at them. Surely they are about to meet their doom. 

In a comical turn of events, instead of devouring him, the beast gives Simon a big smooch.  The four are extremely relieved that this monster is amiable. The pens then draw a nice, comfy bed and tuck in an exhausted Simon with his new-found friend. They then return to their original spots on the desk, and they too fall asleep.
When the budding artist awakens the next morning, he is astonished by what he sees. In place of the sole drawing of Simon stranded on a page with a monster, there sits a complete book, “and that’s the same book that you’ve just finished reading.”

What a clever story! Any book that involves a character coming to life is almost guaranteed to be read and reread in this house. The reason being, we have always enjoyed talking about having our favorite characters visit for a a playdate. My boys have been fascinated by Simon’s Book for about two years now. It is wonderfully imaginative, suspenseful and maybe initially for a very young child, even slightly scary. However, once the scary monster turns out to be friendly, I think it will relieve any tension a kid might experience.

As an aside, I am quite the sentimental sort, so Drescher’s dedication to his children, made me misty-eyed.  “For Sofia and  Emile and Joakim. I made this book for you before I knew you’d fill my life – Dad” I wonder what wonderful things my kids will say about me, their sweet momma, in their own dedications one day;-)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chewy Louie by Howie Schneider

Copyright ©2000 by Howie Schneider
Illustrations copyright ©2000 by Howie Schneider

A father brings home a dog for his little son. Louie is an adorable black puppy with a tail wagging a mile a minute. He is quickly nicknamed Chewy Louie because of his penchant for chewing everything in sight - bowls, toys, clothing, furniture etc.
Initially, only the little boy and his mother are worried about Louie’s insatiable appetite for chewing, but after Louie begins eating the back porch, even the father becomes sufficiently perturbed to take Louie to the Vet.

The family is assured that Louie is just a growing dog and are advised to feed him more. The illustration of the family driving away from the Vet’s office shows that Louie’s destruction is not confined simply to their home. Louie has bitten large chunks out of the tables and chair at the Vet’s office. He has even eaten off half of the Vet’s pant leg and lab coat.
At home, Louie has wreaked so much havoc that a construction crew is hired to make the house presentable for the little boy’s upcoming birthday party.  The repair men enter the house to discuss the job.   Louie gets to work outside, chewing the lumber stacked on their truck.  After they see their truck, the repair men quit before even commencing work. The family resorts to hiring two dog trainers, one right after the other.  Both trainers have vastly different approaches but both are equally ineffective;  Louie’s behavior sends them both packing and his chewing continues unabated. 
The day of the party arrives, and the family hopes that Louie will behave. Their hopes are dashed and hilarity ensues when it is time for cake. With the guest looking horrified, Louie begins chomping right through the table.
It then seems inevitable to the little boy that his pet will be sent away. Dejected, he plays one last game of fetch with Louie.  To his delight, for the very first time, Louie actually retrieves the stick instead of eating it. Over the next few days, to everyone's relief, it appears that Louie has indeed outgrown the chewing stage! 

The text is rather brief so it is the hilarious illustrations that really make this book a hit. My kids have loved to point out the items, and they are absurdly numerous, that he has chewed. Also, Louie is a rather goofy looking puppy - teeth protruding from his mouth, tongue lolling, tail constantly wagging - which makes him all the more adorable. You will laugh out loud and possibly sympathize, if you too have owned a Chewy Louie.