These reviews were written by four area teachers of children's literature: Barbara Britsch (BB), professor emerita of Lourdes College; Melissa Cain (MC) of the University of Findlay, Barbara St. John (BSJ), retired from Bowling Green State University, and Alexa Sandmann (ALS) of Kent State University.
Summer is the time to explore a pile of new books with fascinating characters and stories that will hold you to the very end -- books that are perfect for hammocks, lazy boat rides, and beach chairs. Jump in!
Dinosaur Pet By Marc Sedaka. Illustrated by Tim Bowers. Imagine! Publishing. $17.95.
Remember Neil Sedaka's hit "Calendar Girl"? His son Marc adapted the lyrics to create the rollicking tale of Dinosaur Pet. It showcases the life of an endearing green-and-blue striped dinosaur, from breaking out of his shell in January to crushing the bed in April to dressing up as King Kong in October. It's clear that feeding a pet dinosaur is a challenge! The accompanying CD includes Neil singing not only the title song, but also "She Moved Away" and "The Tooth Fairy," popular topics for the preschool set. Just plain fun! (ALS)
A Leak Can Be By Laura Purdie Salas. Illustrated by Violeta Dubija. Millbrook Press. $17.95.
Salas explores the many uses leaves have in nature through rhymed couplets on facing pages, all the way from "Soft cradle/Water ladle" to "Wind rider/Lake glider" or "Shade spiller/Mouth filler." Full-page, soft-color illustrations are keyed to the year's seasons, with attendant birds and small animals. Endnotes expand on each use. A lovely book meant to gently inform and certainly entertain. (BB)
More By I.C. Springman. Illustrated by Brian Lies. Houghton Mifflin. $16.99. Ages 3-5.
A curious magpie introduces a lesson in conservation. Magpie begins with an empty nest. A friendly mouse gives him a marble and he finds more and more to add to the collection. But when does enough become too much? What problems arise with too many? How do the friendly mice help? Little ones will understand the story through Lies' delightful illustrations. (BSJ)
Red, White and Boom! By Lee Wardlaw. Illustrated by Huy Voun Lee. Henry Holt. $16.99.
This charming book explores the July 4th holiday in terse verse. The day starts with a parade--"Red, white, blue, curbside view"; goes on to a beach picnic--"Blue, red, white, tugging kite," and ends with fireworks, after which, "White, blue, red, sleepyhead, July 4th parades home to bed." Cut-paper collage illustrations perfectly complement the simple text and show America's wonderfully diverse people happily at play. MC)
A Path of Stars Written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien. Charlesbridge. $15.95.
Dara loves to hear the stories her Cambodian grandmother, Lok Yeay, shares, of her house surrounded by trees full of coconuts, mangoes, and oranges, of the air which smelled of hibiscus and roses. Grandmother also tells stories of when the "soldiers came," and that eventually, she and her daughter -- Dara's mother -- find refuge in the United States. When Lok Yeay learns that her brother, who remained in Cambodia, has died, it is Dara, whose name means "star," who helps her grandmother find a path to peace. Perfect for intergenerational sharing. (ALS)
Penny and Her Song Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. Harper Collins/Greenwillow. $12.99.
Award-winner Henkes delights us with another prize: Penny, the musical mouse. This simple chapter-book's story follows Penny's attempts to share "her very own song" with her family. Finally, after dinner, Mama, Papa, and the babies listen, join in, and even put on a show, complete with costumes. Will Penny remember her song the next morning? Oh yes, beautifully. A perfect book for beginning readers. (BB)
Falcon Written and illustrated by Tim Jessell. Random House. $17.99.
Jessell invites the reader to join a journey through the eyes of a falcon. Breathtaking illustrations draw viewers to soar above the mountains and seas. How does it feel as your wings slice through the air? What other animals become his prey? An amazing adventure. (BSJ)
The Obstinate Pen Written and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer. Henry Holt. $16.99.
When Uncle Flood unwrapped his new pen, it "promptly stood at attention." He "shivered with delight" in anticipation of writing his story. But the pen tells him he has a big nose and continues to insult him. Exasperated, he throws it out the window. A series of people pick it up with hilarious results. Cartoon illustrations enhance this quirky tale. (MC)
The False Prince By Jennifer A. Nielsen. Scholastic. $17.99.
Captivating from the first paragraph, this tale's four orphans compete for the role of "false prince," a nobleman's solution to uniting the kingdom of Carthya. Sage's wisdom from having been on his own for the past four years makes him a savvy competitor against the other contenders, and his ready wit and willingness to confront the truth in any scenario make him a most likeable character. Twists and turns enrich the plot for a fabulous read. Great news: It's the first of a trilogy. (ALS)
Chomp By Carl Hiaasen. Alfred A. Knopf. $16.99.
Wahoo Cray's father is a Florida animal wrangler, so Wahoo (named for a fish) is very familiar with Everglades alligators, snakes, and more. When Mickey signs with a TV reality show, "Expedition Survival," the fun begins. The star, Derek Badger, arrogant, ignorant, and cowardly, is chomped by one alligator, one snapping turtle, two snakes, one bat, and 2,000 mosquitoes before disappearing into the swampy glades. Reluctantly, Wahoo, Mickey, and the TV crew search for him while trying to protect the Everglades' residents. Will they all survive? (BB)
Moon Pie By Simon Mason. David Fickling. $16.99.
After her mother's death, Martha, 11, tries to keep things "normal." But her father's actions become increasingly strange. He is an alcoholic. Martha realizes she needs adult help. Grandparents and others are involved and the children are safe while Dad gets help. Martha discovers her acting skills and follows in her mother's footsteps. Good adult/child interaction. (BSJ)
Storybound By Marissa Burt. Harper. $16.99.
Foster child Una Fairchild loves to lose herself in reading. One day a book transports her into the land of Story. As Una struggles to learn how things work there, she realizes her status as a "written-in" character puts her in danger. Harry Potter fans will enjoy the Perrault school setting, where students take classes such as Villainy and Heroics and interact with talking animals. The surprise ending leaves readers longing for the next installment. (MC)
The Fault in Our Stars By John Green. Dutton. $17.99.
An exploration of joy even in the midst of the process of dying, this book is a masterpiece of a novel. Hazel's medical prognosis is known; she is terminal. Encouraged by her mother to attend a cancer support group, she meets Augustus, who truly gives her reason to leave her room and "Live her best life today," the mantra of the group. This novel is ideal for contemplating life's challenges, for pondering priorities, and for realizing where one's values truly lie. A soulful experience. (ALS)
The Lions of Little Rock By Kristin Levine. G.P. Putnam's Sons. $16.99.
Set in 1958 in Little Rock, Ark., this is Marlee's story. At 12 ("almost 13"), she's realizing the results of her shyness and unwillingness to talk. But Liz, the new girl in school, encourages her to be brave. Trouble comes when Liz is revealed as a black girl passing as white. Their friendship is subject to the dangers of racism and segregation. A captivating story for younger teen readers. (BB)
Trafficked By Kim Purcell. Viking. $16.99.
Recently newspapers have carried stories of young women lured to this country with promises of riches, but forced into slavery and prostitution. Teenage Hannah is brought to Los Angeles from Russia to work as a nanny. Instead, she becomes a prisoner. Without money or friends Hannah must rely on her own wits to survive. A story of tremendous courage. This novel is based on a real person -- there are "Hannahs" living in this area. (BSJ)
Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul By Leanna Renee Hieber. Sourcebooks Fire. $8.99.
In 1880, Natalie Stewart, mute since her mother's death, lives with her father, a curator at the 10-year-old Metropolitan Museum. When a portrait of a young Englishman, Lord Denbury, who has strangely disappeared, comes to the museum, Natalie finds the painting oddly compelling. She literally steps into it and discovers Denbury, alive, but trapped in the canvas by dark magic. Natalie must overcome her limitations to save the man she comes to love. (MC)